Book Recommendation: The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing by M. T. Anderson

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing by M. T. Anderson is the fictional (though not without historical precedent) account of an African boy whose mother was a queen in Africa but is sold into slavery and ends up living in the U.S. during the time of the revolutionary war.  Octavian, the young slave boy, is given something of a privileged upbringing as he is taught Greek and Latin and gets a thorough classical education as he grows up among the fellows of the Novanglian College of Lucidity.  As the book progresses, the true motives behind his education are revealed  and as a result, the novel has much to say about man’s lust for power, riches, and self sufficiency.  Anderson’s novel paints a rather different picture of the American Revolution than I received growing up as he highlights the fate of slaves in the war as well as the atrocities committed by both sides.  What I found most interesting was Octavian’s relationships with numerous character’s– through these relationships, Anderson explores the motives of those who forced men to be slaves as well as man’s capacity for kindness.  This is a novel about what makes us human–it is a story of virtue versus commerce and it poignantly illustrates the irony behind the Revolutionary War cry for “liberty and property.”  Highly recommended.

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  • For other reading on the book (and its immediate sequel), here are two more articles:

    • Carissa’s CAPC review (covering the first novel)

    • My own Goodreads review (covering both novels)

  • Thanks for those links … I should really search our site before I write about these type of things.

    And for the record, I suppose its not clear in my article, but I have not yet read Volume 2. I assume you recommend the second volume as well?

  • I do recommend it. Both my wife and I enjoyed the two books quite a bit. The second one may even offer more to think about than the first.