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The Pox Party (The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, #01)

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The Pox Party (The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, #01) Cover

ISBN13: 9780763624026
ISBN10: 0763624020
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE
THE TRANSIT OF VENUS

I was raised in a gaunt house with a garden; my earliest recollections are of floating lights in the apple-trees.

I recall, in the orchard behind the house, orbs of flames rising through the black boughs and branches; they climbed, spirit-ous, and flickered out; my mother squeezed my hand with delight. We stood near the door to the ice-chamber.

By the well, servants lit bubbles of gas on fire, clad in frock-coats of asbestos.

Around the orchard and gardens stood a wall of some height, designed to repel the glance of idle curiosity and to keep us all from slipping away and running for freedom; though that, of course, I did not yet understand.

How doth all that seeks to rise burn itself to nothing.

The men who raised me were lords of matter, and in the dim chambers I watched as they traced the spinning of bodies celestial in vast, iron courses, and bid sparks to dance upon their hands; they read the bodies of fish as if each dying trout or shad was a fresh Biblical Testament, the wet and twitching volume of a new-born Pentateuch. They burned holes in the air, wrote poems of love, sucked the venom from sores, painted landscapes of gloom, and made metal sing; they dissected fire like newts.

I did not find it strange that I was raised with no one father, nor did I marvel at the singularity of any other article in my upbringing. It is ever the lot of children to accept their circumstances as universal, and their articularities as general.

So I did not ask why I was raised in a house by many men, none of whom claimed blood relation to me. I thought not to inquire why my mother stayed in this house, or why we alone were given names - mine, Octavian; hers, Cassiopeia - when all the others in the house were designated by number.

The owner of the house, Mr. Gitney, or as he styled himself, 03-01, had a large head and little hair and a dollop of a nose. He rarely dressed if he did not have to go out, but shuffled most of the time through his mansion in a banyan-robe and undress cap, shaking out his hands as if he'd washed them newly. He did not see to my instruction directly, but required that the others spend some hours a day teaching me my Latin and Greek, my mathematics, scraps of botany, and the science of music, which grew to be my first love.

The other men came and went. They did not live in the house, but came of an afternoon, or stayed there often for some weeks to perform their virtuosic experiments, and then leave. Most were philosophers, and inquired into the workings of time and memory, natural history, the properties of light, heat, and petrifaction. There were musicians among them as well, and painters and poets.

My mother, being of great beauty, was often painted. Once, she and I were clad as Venus, goddess of love, and her son Cupid, and we reclined in a bower. At other times, they made portraits of her dressed in the finest silks of the age, smiling behind a fan, or leaning on a pillar; and on another occasion, when she was sixteen, they drew her nude, for an engraving, with lines and letters that identified places upon her body.

The house was large and commodious, though often drafty. In its many rooms, the men read their odes, or played the violin, or performed their philosophical exercises. They combined chemical compounds and stirred them. They cut apart birds to trace the structure of the avian skeleton, and, masked in leather hoods, they dissected a skunk. They kept cages full of fireflies. They coaxed reptiles with mice. From the uppermost story of the house, they surveyed the city and the bay through spy-glasses, and noted the ships that arrived from far corners of the Empire, the direction of winds and the migration of clouds across the waters and, on its tawny isle, spotted with shadow, the Castle.

Amidst their many experimental chambers, there was one door that I was not allowed to pass. One of the painters sketched a little skull-and-crossbones on paper, endowed not with a skull, but with my face, my mouth open in a gasp; and this warning they hung upon that interdicted door as a reminder. They meant it doubtless as a jest, but to me, the door was terrible, as ghastly in its secrets as legendary Bluebeard's door, behind which his dead, white wives sat at table, streaked with blood from their slit throats.

We did not venture much out of the house and its grounds into the city that surrounded us. In the garden, we could hear its bustle, the horseshoes on stone cobbles and dirt, the conversation of sailors, the crying of onions and oysters in passageways. The men of that house feared that too much interaction with the world would corrupt me, and so I was, in the main, hidden away for my earliest years, as the infant Jove, snatched out of the gullet of Time, was reared by his horned nurse on Mount Ida in profoundest secrecy.

When we did go abroad, Mr. 03-01 warned me that I should not lean out at the window of the carriage, and should not show my face. He told me that, should I ever run away into the city, I would not return, but would be snatched up by evil men who would take me forever away from my mother. This was, I know now, but a half-lie.

Copyright © 2006 by M. T. Anderson

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ipsofecteau, September 23, 2006 (view all comments by ipsofecteau)
Reading this book is like seeing a flickering image made of light at a distance and approaching it to find that is in fact made of iron. The flowry language and academic tone seem to distance the reader from Octavian at the beginning of the book. But as it continues, he becomes more and more real until the end when you realize that he is as alive to you as anyone you have ever met.

The other characters and voices in the book are distinct and fascinating. Octavian's mother and Mr Sharp in particular tell truths that make the reader (at least this reader) lay down the book and stare into space.

This is a brilliant combination of history, scientific inquiry, twisted family dynamics and gripping storytelling.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780763624026
Author:
Anderson, M. T.
Publisher:
Candlewick Press (MA)
Subject:
Science
Subject:
History
Subject:
Historical - Other
Subject:
Children's 12-Up - Fiction - History
Subject:
Liberty
Subject:
Social Issues - General
Subject:
People & Places - United States - African-American
Subject:
Historical - United States - Colonial
Subject:
African Americans
Subject:
Slavery
Subject:
Historical - United States - Colonial & Revolutionary
Subject:
Historical / United States / Revolutionary Periods
Subject:
Children s Young Adult-Social Issue Fiction-General
Subject:
Children s Young Adult-Social Issue Fiction
Subject:
historical fiction;slavery;fiction;ya;young adult;american revolution;revolutionary war;historical;national book award;boston;science;african americans;history;smallpox;printz honor;african american;philosophy;experiments;teen;fantasy;race;freedom;novel;1
Copyright:
Series:
Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation
Series Volume:
01
Publication Date:
September 12, 2006
Binding:
HARDCOVER
Grade Level:
from 9
Language:
English
Illustrations:
1-COLOR
Pages:
368
Dimensions:
9.14x6.82x1.30 in. 1.56 lbs.
Age Level:
14-17

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Related Subjects

Children's » Awards » Michael L. Printz Award Winners
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Young Adult » General

The Pox Party (The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, #01) Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$3.95 In Stock
Product details 368 pages Candlewick Press (MA) - English 9780763624026 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

I'll say right out that The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing is disturbing on a number of levels: it makes historical America seem shockingly contemporary (or, perhaps, futuristic); it explores theories of scientific experimentation and whether the end (a chance at a supposedly "better" world) always justifies the means; and it portrays the frightening isolation of individuals in a so-called free society. But it is also like no other young adult novel I've ever read, written with such wit and precision that I still think about some of the images and characters.

"Staff Pick" by ,

This is an astonishingly imagined and well-researched book. Octavian Nothing's life is chronicled in the style of a slave narrative, but at times reads like a futuristic nightmare. Though living in apparent luxury, Octavian and his mother are slaves to an experiment by a group of rational philosophers in pre-revolutionary Boston. The craven nature of this relationship is both shocking to read and clearly metaphorical. While examining notions of freedom, scientific ethics, and rationality, as well as national- and self-delusion, this haunting book will stay with you for months to come.

"Review" by , "The story's scope is immense, in both its technical challenges and underlying intellectual and moral questions....Readers will marvel at Anderson's ability to maintain this high-wire act of elegant, archaic language and shifting voices."
"Review" by , "A brilliantly complex interrogation of our basic American assumptions. Anderson has created an alternative narrative of our national mythology, one that fascinates, appalls, condemns — and enthralls."
"Synopsis" by , Various diaries, letters, and other manuscripts chronicle the experiences of Octavian, a young African American, from birth to age 16, as he is brought up as part of a science experiment in the years leading up to and during the Revolutionary War.
"Synopsis" by , Presented in eighteenth century-style prose, this unique historical novel opens in a dreamlike setting and then moves progressively to stark realism.
"Synopsis" by , Now in paperback, this deeply provocative novel reimagines the past as an eerie place that has startling resonance for readers today.

Young Octavian is being raised by a group of rational philosophers known only by numbers — but it is only after he opens a forbidden door that learns the hideous nature of their experiments, and his own chilling role them. Set in Revolutionary Boston, M. T. Andersons mesmerizing novel takes place at a time when Patriots battled to win liberty while African slaves were entreated to risk their lives for a freedom they would never claim. The first of two parts, this deeply provocative novel reimagines past as an eerie place that has startling resonance for readers today.

"Andersons imaginative and highly intelligent exploration of . . . the ambiguous history of Americas origins will leave readers impatient for the sequel." — THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW

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