Friday, November 28, 2008

Octavian Nothing, volume 2

By M. T. Anderson. The full title is The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume II: The Kingdom on the Waves.

As indicated, a review of the second volume.

My initial reaction is disappointment; the resolution of Octavian's childhood, and ending of the book, though open, is less optimistic than I hoped. In a book about slavery and freedom, war and death, however gilded in flights of philosophy, this is perhaps no more should be expected, but as a reader I prefer less dismal endings.

The theme is one of hypocrisy; the surface never matches what is underneath, even in Octavian's own case (to the reader's bitter surprise on his behalf, although his own emotion is better concealed). Both the British governors and the rebels speak of liberty to all, but care only for their own.

The historical detail continues to provide fascinating insight into the uncertainty of the rebellion and the British army's plight stranded months from home. I suspect this perspective will prove the most lasting element of the book in my memory; I did not often hear about American atrocities in high school history, except in the treatment of Native Americans. These revelations point to my own hypocrisy, which continues to trouble me.

I also admit to appreciating the spiritual matters touched on; Octavian is Christian to some extent, and even the atheist Dr. Trefusis's casual blasphemy near the end of his life tells of a serious concern for what may come after.

Overall, not a cheerful book, but neither is it frivolous: the attention to history cannot help but highlight questions about the present.

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