Monday, February 04, 2008

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume 1: The Pox Party

By Mr. M. T. Anderson of Boston.

Recommended, with the slight caveat that there is a second volume forthcoming. Even so, this volume stands very well on its own.

The narrative is composed of accounts, largely from Octavian's perspective, of his early life and accomplishments. It is the eve of the American Revolution, and he is being raised by a household of musicians, artists and philosophers in an experiment to determine whether the African race is intellectually equal to the European race. His restrained and analytical narrative is occasionally interrupted by outbursts of emotion as he relates the treatment of his mother, an African princess, and his own changing conditions as the source of the household's funding changes. While the philosophers (perhaps better called scientists) measure his ingestion and excretion, overlooking the intangible ingredients which make a man, Octavian learns to observe the world around him, and learns, perhaps, more than they would wish.

What he sees are the peculiar events occurring in the name of freedom: old men tarred and feathered, property destroyed and merchants run out of town, slaves fighting for their masters' freedom, all occurring in the name of "Liberty and Property." As Octavian learns, the Liberty is for those with white skin, and others are Property.

This is a good book that I can recommend wholeheartedly.

I especially enjoyed the historical aspect; it was not often in high school, talking about American history, that I was reminded of the horror and caprice of war, even when the cause is righteous. In its latter half, this book brings close the uncertainty that surrounded those who were not elites and leaders, who were fighting to survive in the face of a conflict brought about by an upper class. While the book is fiction, a historical footnote adds that several experiments like the one described above actually occurred.

The second volume is scheduled for October, 2008. Hat tip to olmue for the mention that made me look it up in the first place.

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