Sunday, February 27, 2011

Poor Octavian

When we last saw Octavian, he was fleeing from the College of Novangelium... something or other*, with his mentor Prof. Trefusis to Boston. So we start The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing: Traitor to the Nation; Part II: The Kingdom on the Waves with Octavian securing lodging at a widow's house and returning to his beloved violin to earn money for their board. Through his band mates, he learns that Lord Dunmore, governor of Virginia, is offering freedom to all blacks who join his forces. The promise of freedom is too much for Octavian to resist so he joins up meeting again with Pro Bono, a fellow slave at the college, and meets for the first time people from his homeland of Oyo. Octavian must wrestle with his identity as a rather privileged slave versus those who have suffered greatly at the hands of plantation masters, and his misunderstood identity as a prince of Oyo.

No lie. This is a really hard book to read. It's challenging just in its word choice and style. It's difficult to watch Octavian who is so well-educated in someways be so naive in others. It's hard to know eventually they are going to lose and to watch the treatment of Blacks at the hands of Lord Dunmore. Heart-braking.

It's ultimately worth it though. You see the love Prof. Trefusis has for Octavian despite continued misunderstanding of their class differences. You see Octavian grow and struggle and ultimately master his own life and find a way to connect with something in this world. So yes, Octavian is a traitor to the nation, but his reasons are his own. And you can hardly blame his choice for some freedom when regardless of which nation he chooses to support he will ultimately be trampled by it.

*Sorry, I've returned the book already.

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