Monday, July 21, 2008

Book Review: "The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing: The Pox Party"

The first of two projected volumes of M.T. Anderson's The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation is The Pox Party (Candlewick Press, 2006). The book is marketed for young adults, but it would probably be of interest to anyone with an interest in American history or the history of science. Octavian, a young slave, is being raised by the staff of Boston's Novanglian College of Lucidity as an experiment to determine the comparative abilities of the races. But as time goes on, circumstances change, and the boy soon finds himself in much different conditions than he's used to.

A hefty read for anyone given the issues it tackles, this book delves deeply into the dark side of the Enlightenment, as well as probing the difficult questions race and slavery posed during the period immediately preceding and during the American Revolution. Anderson has taken certain liberties with the history of the period (and offers due caution to the reader about this), but has managed to carry off a difficult project remarkably well, adding dashes of humor and wit to what could be a singularly depressing story.

Well researched, nicely written, and beautifully designed (Candlewick did themselves proud on this one). I enjoyed it so much that I read it in one sitting, and I've already pre-ordered the second volume, due for release in October.