Monday, June 26, 2006

Octavian Nothing


M.T. Anderson has done it again. This book is so haunting and so horrifying to me that I am happy the ending of book one was a bit abrupt and cliff-hangery, because frankly I needed a break.

Octavian's mother was "brought" over to America at the age of 14 and big with child. She was a princess in her own land, and came to stay at the College of Lucidity -- a school of philosophy of sorts. Princess Cassiopeia and son Octavian are the only two there with names...everyone else is referred to by a system of enumeration. Mr. Gitney, the owner of the house, is 03-01. 03-01 is raising Octavian with a classical education of Greek, Latin, music, philosophy and poetry.

Octavian has many gifts, one being observation. He is indeed encouraged to be observant. It is through these observations that Octavian slowly begins to discover that all is not as it seems. The men of the house often conduct experiments on different animals in order to discover the science of the thing. Many times these experiments seem cruel. Indeed, there is one experimentation room that Octavian may not even has his likeness on the door drawn skull and crossbone style.

One day he gets the courage to pass through these doors, and his life will never be the same. Within those walls is the evidence that he and his mother are part of the experiment themselves. An opportunity for these "men of science" to study the differences between those of European descent and Africans.

The history within Octavian Nothing is somewhat shocking to me, because I am not American and have not studied much American history. The College of Lucidity is in Boston in the days leading up to the Revolution. M. T. Anderson has an author's note in the back that speaks to the history of the time.

The story is Octavian's, though some of it is told through brief articles and letters, and some through a revolutionary soldier. I don't want to give too much of the plot away since this is still an arc, but suffice it to say that this is a book that will remain in my thoughts for a long time. It made me uncomfortable and sad, shocked and hopeful all at the same time.

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