Hidden in the Shelves (4)

Hidden in the Shelves is a feature where I show off a discovery (or rediscovery) that I came across while shelving books for work.

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol. 1: The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson

It sounds like a fairy tale. He is a boy dressed in silks and white wigs and given the finest of classical educations. Raised by a group of rational philosophers known only by numbers, the boy and his mother — a princess in exile from a faraway land — are the only persons in their household assigned names. As the boy’s regal mother, Cassiopeia, entertains the house scholars with her beauty and wit, young Octavian begins to question the purpose behind his guardians’ fanatical studies. Only after he dares to open a forbidden door does he learn the hideous nature of their experiments — and his own chilling role in them. Set against the disquiet of Revolutionary Boston, M. T. Anderson’s extraordinary novel takes place at a time when American Patriots rioted and 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 the past as an eerie place that has startling resonance for readers today.

Thank Goodreads for the summary! I’ve known about this book for a while. I’m not exactly sure why this caught my eye. Part of it might have been the ridiculously long name. Part of it might have been the fact that for some misguided reason I thought this was a fantasy book. (Imagine my shock when I actually looked up the summary for this feature) Maybe it was the fact that is was by M.T. Anderson. (I really enjoyed the first book I read by him, Feed)

Whatever it was it caused me to pull the book from the shelf at work when I stumbled across it again. After reading the summary, I’m not as interested in reading it. Back to the shelves it goes…

10 thoughts on “Hidden in the Shelves (4)

  1. I’ve thought the same thing whenever I come across this book! For some reason I thought it was more like a Percy Jackson type book… I don’t know why though! Although the summary sounds interesting, it doesn’t sound like something I’d be interested in. Oh well… I’ll leave it on the shelf next time I see it!

  2. This sounds weird and I’m wondering where the pox comes in… are they experimenting with smallpox vaccines on slaves? Because that is probably a little too close to the truth for me to want to read it in fiction!

  3. For me, the title and the description don’t go together. I keep looking at the cover and thinking the man in the iron mask which doesn’t help it fit together any better either.

  4. Oh, are you kidding me! I’m reading this book right now! How funny. It is not really my usual brand of reading, but I actually love it. In the beginning, the main character lives with an eccentric bunch of qasi-scientists and theologians and educated men who raise him and his mother in their household not a slaves, but as priveledged “experiments”. The mother is treated like royalty, while the son, Octavian is given a classic education. In the background, however, you learn that the whole purpose of this is to prove or disprove whether African peoples and their decendants are capable of being educated to the level of Europeans. The main character is a child in the beginning (but he grows up quickly )and it all seems whimsical and wonderful at first but then you start to realize something more insidious is going on. . Eventually the “nicer” scientists lose their funding and a new group of investors come in. They take all the whimsy away and Octavian has to become more like his peers, serving, posturing to the whites, etc. He’s treated horribly. The Pox Party is based on an old tradition. The scientists invite a large group of people to come to stay together in one place and everyone is purposely infected with a pox virus. Those who survive know they will have life long immunity. Trouble is, the pox is hard to survive. Octavian and his mother are part of this pox party as are the other slaves and servants of the other gentry folks who attend. *Spoiler* He loses his mother to the Pox and in his grief, runs away and becomes a fiddle player with the continental army.*End Spoiler*
    It’s a little tedious to read b/c its written in period language. I just have to say thank God I’m reading it on my kindle fire so I can easily get the definition of words I don’t know. It’s got me hooked enough, though, that when my 14 day lending period ran out, I went straight back and checked it out again. I’m about 70% through it and it’s an intriguing story. It’s shocking and horrifying sometimes and moving and tragic. And strange. Very strange.

What are your thoughts? (Comments are moderated. Yours will be up as soon as I read it!)

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