Thursday, August 06, 2015

Review: Octavian Nothing, Volume 2

M. T. Anderson
The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing: Traitor to the Nation
Volume 2: The Kingdom On The Waves
M. T Anderson
Candlewick, December 2010

About the Book

Fearing a death sentence, Octavian and his tutor, Dr. Trefusis, escape through rising tides and pouring rain to find shelter in British-occupied Boston. Sundered from all he knows—the College of Lucidity, the rebel cause—Octavian hopes to find safe harbor. Instead, he is soon to learn of Lord Dunmore’s proclamation offering freedom to slaves who join the counter-revolutionary forces.

In Volume II of his unparalleled masterwork, M. T. Anderson recounts Octavian’s experiences as the Revolutionary War explodes around him, thrusting him into intense battles and tantalizing him with elusive visions of liberty. Ultimately, this astonishing narrative escalates to a startling, deeply satisfying climax, while reexamining our national origins in a singularly provocative light.

My Review

I’m at a loss of words. I almost think this would take a second reading to cement just how I feel about the second volume of Octavian Nothing.

I’ll start by saying that I loved the two page summary of the first volume. It perfectly sums up the action and motivations of the first volume. The second volume begins right where the other left off. We’ve got Dr. Trefusis and Octavian on the run. Their lives are at stake, and they’re seeking refuge in Boston—a city which at the moment is under British control. Call them Tories, Loyalists, Redcoats, whatever. Both know that Boston is a dangerous city. A city that could fall into Rebel hands. And if and when it does, they know that their lives would be forfeit.

Their hope is to obtain a place within the British army—on a British vessel or ship. Octavian at last is able to join fellow runaway slaves and enlist in Lord Dunmore’s army. Dunmore has promised to free the slaves of Rebels if they will join his cause and fight.

Here is the scene where he enlists.

“Your name?” said the Serjeant. “Octavian,” said I. “Your surname?” I considered. I would no longer be called Gitney. “I have none,” I said. “And ye don’t have no master.” “I have no master, sir,” said I, “except the King.” To the tatooed Craigie he said, “Write ‘Octavian Negro.’” “While I would not trouble the Serjeant, I would beg—” “What then?” “If it please you, sir, put down nothing for the surname. I would rather be called nothing than be named only for my race.” Serjeant Clippinger gave an insalubrious smile. “Octavian Nothing?” said he. I regarded my name. Knowing not who I was, it seemed a fair enough appellation. “Octavian Nothing,” I agreed. And thus it was inscribed.

Army life is hard. And war isn’t all Octavian thought it would be. He is keeping a journal of his life, the events as they unfold in 1775 and 1776. Along the way, he makes new friends and rediscovers old friends. Pro Bono is back wearing the new name of William Williams. The book is a continuation of Octavian’s quest for freedom, liberty, and identity.

The book is well-written. And the pacing, or action, is much steadier and more intense than the previous volume. Old characters—Dr. Trefusis, Mr. Gitney, Pro Bono, and others—are there alongside new ones: Slant, Will, John, Pomp, and more. There is much depth—heart and spirit—to the two books. There is much to admire and appreciate within the pages. When you think of it as a coming-of-age story, it is quite impressively done. Both books showcase humanity—the good, the bad, the ugly, the abominable, the admirable.

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