I savored this book, reveling in the language I confess I read it with my ipod touch handy to look up words I didn t know just as I did with dictionaries and The New Yorker as a child, and I learned a great deal about machines of warfare This second part of Octavian Nothing s journey from slave to freed man takes him to Virginia Governor Dun s failed campaign against the rebels where an army of African Americans, promised freedom, are holed up in ships and sent out in fruitless battles From others on the ship, Octavian finds out the truth about his ancestry, sees that neither the loyalists nor the rebels will actually respect a black man, and finally, after his tutor and almost all his friends die, escapes to return to Boston and destroy Gitney s records of his childhood, substituting his own narrative, before lighting out to the wilderness with his violin in hopes of finding other freed slaves and making a community of there own where Anderson will not follow.Beyond appreciating the language and the compelling story line, I enjoyed watching Octavian coming to terms with his past, and still staying strong for the most part still looking forward It was not so pleasant to be reminded of the history of black white relationships, still resonating today, but important The historical documents are profoundly depressing. This review has been revised and can now be found at Sequel To The National Book Award Winner A Novel Of The First Rank, The Kind Of Monumental Work Italo Calvino Called Encyclopedic In The Way It Sweeps Up History Into A Comprehensible And Deeply Textured Pattern THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEWFearing 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 Dun S Proclamation Offering Freedom To Slaves Who Join The Counterrevolutionary 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 26 11 This isn t impressing me as much as the first book The language, the exceedingly thick and fake torn pages, the characters none of it is drawing me in to the story like the first book The novelty seems to have worn off The second book is also quite a bit longer than the first and my first thought when I picked it up at the library was Wow, that s a lot bigger than I expected That sounds dirty, but it s not meant to be and no matter what word I substitute for bigger still in the same context longer, fatter, thicker etc it still sounds dreadful, so I m not going to bother trying and will put up with the mockery I m likely to get This might be a DNF for me, simply because I think the first book could should have been a stand alone To be continued11 12 This didn t pass the litmus test of being given a second chance to be read while it sat on my bedside table I had only a few passing thoughts of picking it up over one of the other books I was currently reading concurrently that tells me that it hasn t, and probably never will, hold my attention I read so little maybe 20 pages , that I don t feel it s fair to rate it formally, but informally I would give it 2 2.5 stars. Powerful and moving stuff Much bleaker than the first book. The action of Volume I The Pox Party is summed up neatly in a broadside, allowing the plot of Volume II to stand on its own The emotional content of this book, though, is probably better understood in light of the first book, but there s enough going on here to completely occupy the reader.Octavian, as a character, is a fascinating outsider in the world he occupies He has the education of a well to do white man, he was raised as an object of scientific inquiry, but he also witnessed his mother s horrific death and suffered his own indignities at the hands of Mr Gitney and Mr Sharpe In some ways he is mature beyond his years, but he can t bring himself to speak to a girl he admires He is seen as a slave by most white men, both Royalist and revolutionary He is seen as a pampered boy by many of his fellow former slaves in Lord Dun s Ethiopian regiment At times he brings a sense of history and philosophy to his situation, and at other times he is overcome by the world around him Not only is Octavian a fascinating character, but so are others around him It s an overwhelming example of historical fiction overwhelming because it does not seem to impose our present day understanding on historical figures, but instead shows them as they were understood at the time Both sides care only for the slaves in as far as they can further their cause Nothing is glamorized or glorified The language is amazing and was the source, along with the character of Pro Bono, of a lot of the humor of the book I don t cut so excellent a figure when I m vomiting, says Bono or Private William Williams, as he is now known I bend from the waist, and it interrupts the line of beauty At times the book is a delight to read and at other times an agony There s action, and introspection, and views on the story from plenty of characters We read Octavian s testimony, his diary, letters between various characters, and the occasional document from real historical sources Sweet mercy in a firkin, as Bono would say, this is a book worth reading My own words can t do it justice While it s not an easy read, teens interested in realistic historical fiction or classics would find this a pleasant challenge It is, at heart, an unusual coming of age story, concerned with an aspect of history that isn t covered enough in school. This second volume does not fit in the same category as the first of the Octavian Nothing story The gripping philosophical questions that M T Anderson raised in The Pox Party are not only left in limbo, but are also replaced by scenarios and rantings all too prevalent in most modern historical fiction I understand that the past was not a rosy hued age of perfection, but realism does not require bitter, acidic despondency either Warning If the first volume was questionable as being suitably labeled YA, the second volume certainly should not be so promoted War, disease, murder, rape, and a host of other evils are portrayed in a spirit of dark realism Octavian and his friends struggle in a maze with no way out The disappointing thing is that he should have a way out, for he has the riches of education His mind is filled with stories, languages, and music But the author is bent on showing that oppression crushes all, and perhaps for him that classical education is simply another form of oppression, though he hardly presents a consistent picture of the value of such education one way or the other At times it saves Octavian, but as the book progresses, he seems to revert to craving some primitive life What is the point of this book and especially of the pair of stories together I thought at the end of volume one the point was to explore whether education could change a person, lift and buoy him despite other circumstances Volume two proved me wrong, though It made clear that the point was to screech out the evils of slavery This terrible and dreadful topic has been treated before in many ways and in great detail By the end I wanted to scream back at the author, What do you want me to do The book spirals into near hopelessness Anderson s superior writing style remains in this volume, but the book as a whole is too long significantly longer than the first volume and drags in stagnancy of wars unwaged punctuated with calculated shocks of cruelty and baseness Unlike the neat interweaving of different texts in The Pox Party, The Kingdom on the Sea plods with mostly a straightforward diary entry style, overused in recent historical fiction as it is Judged on its own merits, without its partner volume, I must conclude that this book is excuse my seemingly insensitive phrase just another book about the historical evils of American slavery. The conclusion of Octavian s tale is every bit as satisfying as the beginning it s like a stew, full of strong, hearty language and meaty chunks of characterization and I m going to drop this metaphor, for obvious reasons.Anyway, there was some really great stuff about The Kingdom on the Waves I really enjoyed the tales of how some of the slaves ended up in the Ethiopian Regiment and Octavian s chronicling thereof , and how Bono s levity sparkles throughout what is otherwise an extraordinarily dark book, and Octavian s voice itself and the language Beautiful.Some passages I particularly enjoyed Is it not ever thus, the attempts to parley between master and slave, and perhaps between all men is it not always words shouted across the shifting flood, torn away by wind Each hath his element each is wary of brigandage and a gulf roils between us all.And I saw the Earth as the sun rose and it was a world of fire, of particle, spark, and aether consumed and exchanged, no solid place to stand and we were creatures of fire, loops and bright coils devouring as we could in serpentine chase, exhausting until ourselves extinguished and all shed superficies, and clutched to renew, and preyed upon all.Also, I have to thank Anderson for keeping this a two volume series for not succumbing to trilogy pressure and writing a third volume with gargantuan, cleansing battles and a happy ending for all.Sigh I booked it home from the bus so I could drive over to the library a little too far to walk from the bus, plus I needed to start my car and pick this up, where it is on hold for me I battled the rush hour traffic and pulled into an EMPTY parking lot It s Lincoln s 200th birthday, and the library is closed.At least I know the book is worth all the hassle. Most historical fiction books for young people take as their object to show a Typical Person with a Typical Problem in a particular era and most historical fiction for young people reflects a sort of bland consensus view of history, something that is acceptable to teach in schools Octavian Nothing is not most historical fiction.Picking up where the first book left off, Octavian a slave raised in luxury with a first rate education as part of an experiment enlists with the Royal Ethiopian Regiment, which has promised to free any Rebel owned slaves that join up There he encounters war, friendship, heartbreak, betrayal, the difficulty of fitting in when he fits in nowhere He has spent his childhood learning Latin and violin fugues, where his comrades have spent theirs on plantations Octavian s cultural heritage is extremely complex He has been given music and religion but has been deprived of the music and religion of his own people The novel refuses to make an easy calculation of what he has gained and lost.We see Octavian s growing maturity as he acquires wisdom and also cynicism Is selfishness at the core of human nature, human existence Can success or survival only be achieved at the expense of others And if so, how do we reconcile ourselves with that The issue of historical memory is one I ve been deeply interested in for some years now There is probably no nation on earth that has never, somewhere in its history, committed war crimes or genocide, that has no scars on its conscience It s easy to say, it s history, it s in the past It s too easy the past is never past Octavian Nothing is willing to confront that, to ask hard questions To refuse to provide easy answers to them It asks how we can reconcile ourselves with our past with our present and says, maybe we don t Maybe we can t.What a profoundly troubling and beautiful piece of work. I give this one 5 stars for its ambition, authenticity and for its ability to take the reader back to the Revolutionary War But as an enjoyable read, only 3.I loved the first one and didn t really have a problem getting through it despite its language, but this one almost became a burden I read the first one over a weekend This one took me two months.I think my problem was that the story felt standard than the first book, which was such a unique reading experience for me This is a war is hell book so than the first s we can be hell stance.I was drawn to the first and could get past the difficult language because the premise a young African American boy is raised as a social experiment was so different and so scary the worst kind of horror story, one that could actually happen.We pieced Octavian s horrific story through various sources But with this one, most of the story is told through Octavian s journal, which eliminated much of the intrigue for me.I wanted to love this one as much as the first, but the same magic wasn t there And that saddens me It s still a worthy sequel, written beautifully and thoughtfully, it just seems a bit typical.As an aside, I still have to wonder what Young Adult would read this without having it assigned to them in school.
Matthew Tobin Anderson M T Anderson , 1968 is an author, primarily of picture books for children and novels for young adults Anderson lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.His picture books include Handel Who Knew What He Liked Strange Mr Satie The Serpent Came to Gloucester and Me, All Alone, at the End of the World He has written such young adult books as Thirsty, Burger Wuss, Feed, The
- 560 pages
- The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume II: The Kingdom on the Waves
- M.T. Anderson
- 13 January 2019 M.T. Anderson