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


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

ISBN13: 9780763636791
ISBN10: 0763636797
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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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John Servilio, June 17, 2011 (view all comments by John Servilio)
I know Octavian Nothing is classified as an historical novel for "young readers," but never while I was reading this book did this cross my mind. Despite the main character's age, the language and story are quite "adult." Beautifully written, excellent plotting and characterization, wonderful narrative. I highly recommend this!
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funchum, September 3, 2009 (view all comments by funchum)
Even if I had known or remembered that this was by the author of Feed - which I liked quite a bit - it would not have done much to prepare me for this one. I was actually startled by how good this is. It is very encouraging to think that there are teens out there reading such a beautifully-written, sophisticated book. Have faith. Recommended for ages 14 and up, including adults.
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Shoshana, December 25, 2008 (view all comments by Shoshana)
Good enough that I may replace my paperback with a hardbound copy. Classified as young adult fiction (perhaps only because of its young adult protagonist) this first volume of Octavian Nothing reads a bit like Stephenson's Baroque Cycle, only interesting, coherent, and with a discernible plot and character empathy. In addition to the action, set in the early U.S. Revolutionary War period, the major thematic material concerns Octavian's identity. He is simultaneously royalty and slave, collaborator and experimental subject, learned and naive. Volume two may (as the subtitle of this volume suggests) explore Patriot vs. Loyalist. Octavian Nothing raises many questions about whether ends justify means, about struggles for liberty (liberty for whom?), and the virtues and limits of empirical knowledge.

Some reviewers have complained that the language is too mannered and stylistic, but I found it atmospheric rather than detracting. It adds to the historical flavor, and also serves to demonstrate Octavian's rarified upbringing and separation from the general community. The text is suffused with a dry wit and symbolic events that satirize aspects of the plot and characters' struggles and aspirations. Some of these are recognized by some characters; others are not. The mannered tone, arch at times, provides linguistiic containment for otherwise horrific content. Anderson manages this balance quite elegantly. This meticulousness of form and language extends to the book's typesetting in Casalon, a font popular in the American colonial period.

Of note is a self-referential joke on page 203 in the paperback edition. Dr. Trefusis muses, "When I peer into the reaches of the most distant futurity, I fear that even in some unseen epoch when there are colonies even upon the moon itself, there shall still be gatherings like this, where the young, blinded by privilege, shall dance and giggle and compare their poxy lesions." This, of course, is the initial action in Anderson's previous novel Feed.
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Product Details

Anderson, M. T.
Candlewick Press (MA)
Postlethwaite, Mark
Laurier, Jim
Johnson, Hal
White, Teagan
Historical - United States - Colonial
Social Issues - General
People & Places - United States - African-American
Historical fiction
African Americans
Historical - United States - Colonial & Revolutionary
Historical / United States / Revolutionary Periods
Children s Young Adult-Social Issue Fiction-General
Children s Young Adult-Social Issue Fiction
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
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
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
Edition Description:
Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation
Series Volume:
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
from 9
8.00x5.80x1.00 in. .87 lbs.
Age Level:

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The Pox Party (The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, #01) Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$10.99 In Stock
Product details 304 pages Candlewick Press (MA) - English 9780763636791 Reviews:
"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 , "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."
"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."
"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 , 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 ,
A wildly entertaining novel about a young man who discovers that he is part of a secret society of immortal were-creatures bent on hunting one another into extinction.
"Synopsis" by , "A shameful fact about humanity is that some people can be so ugly that no one will be friends with them. It is shameful that humans can be so cruel, and it is shameful that humans can be so ugly."

So begins the incredible story of Myron Horowitz, a disfigured thirteen-year-old just trying to fit in at his Pennsylvania school. When a fight with a bully leaves him unconscious and naked in the wreckage of the cafeteria, Myron discovers that he is an immortal lycanthropeand#8212;a were-mammal who can transform from human to animal. He also discovers that there are others like him, and many of them want Myron dead. and#8220;People will turn into animals,and#8221; says the razor-witted narrator of this tour-de-force, and#8220;and here come ancient secrets and rivers of blood.and#8221;

"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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