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Pox Party
My Rating: 4.7 out of 5  

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The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume I: The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson was a library find. It's not something I would normally read but it was classified as a historical fiction novel so I thought I'd try it. The story is basically about a young slave living in 18th century Boston, MA just before and during the Revolutionary War who was purchased for experimentation by a college in order to scientifically determine (read: "prove") the subordination of Africans to Europeans.

First impression: this is a strange novel, but not in a bad way. It was just different than I expected and certainly not like anything I usually read. It's not written in a traditional novel format. In fact the format is really fragmented and changes voices several times. What I mean is that some parts are written as a memoir from the point of view of Octavian and other large chunks of the novel are written in the form of letters about Octavian or other characters. The dialog was a bit challenging at first because it was written to reflect the language of the time but you get used to it. The main character is surprisingly quiet and introspective, which I initially found confusing but after mentally digesting the book for a few days after completion I think it was refreshingly honest. I found that Octavian is a protagonist that introverts can identify with, which will probably throw off some readers initially since the title leads you to believe (at least in my case) that the protagonist to be a rebellious leader hero type, outspoken, commanding, etc.

There are so many layers to this novel that I'm sure it warrants a second more thorough read.  The overarching themes are the questions of (1) defining humanity and (2) the rights of man, which is amplified by the backdrop of the story being set pre- and during the Revolutionary War, when a colony is fighting for liberty and freedom that they simultaneously wish to deny their African "human" property. The hypocrisy of the time is so abundantly clear to a modern reader but the characters are very well written  to reflect historical and cultural obliviousness/denial of the time. There are those who claim to oppose slavery for moral reasons but the financial and/or economic repercussions of acting on their objections keep them stagnant, trapped in a sort of bondage of their own. In the midst of this struggle to define an individual's humanity and liberty, there's also the coming of age of this young man and the definition, or stagnation, of his personal identity that adds a new dimension to the tale.

There are many more things I could talk about beyond these initial impressions but suffice it to say that I was pleasantly surprised by this novel and do recommend it to those looking for an interesting story that is both challenging and thought-provoking. I will definitely be reading the sequel volume in the future.

#1 - The Return of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
#2 - Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
#3 - The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
#4 - Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
#5 - Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
#6 - The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
# 7 - The Importance of Being Ernest (a play) by Oscar Wilde
# 8 - The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume I: The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson

NEXT BOOK: #9 - The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle