Nation, a review

Nation by
Terry Pratchett

367 pages

Terry_Pratchett_NationThis story takes place in the past, but in an alternate reality from our own where the Russian Flu is killing people including the 138 people in line to be king ahead of Daphne’s father. Around the same time, a “big wave” destroys all the island nations in the ocean. Mau, a boy who believes he has no soul because he had been transitioning between boy and man (like a hermit crab between shells) when the wave destroyed his nation, finds himself alone on his island. But soon Daphne’s boat crashes here, and after a shaky start, she and Mau become friends and learn from each other. She learns how to make beer and do rudimentary medical procedures while he learns that although his island is the biggest he’s ever seen, it’s hardly a smudge on the map of the world.
Mau and Daphne aren’t alone for long as refugees from the other islands start to show up. Mau is angry at the gods for destroying his people and putting him in charge of a broken mismatch of people. He begins asking questions, for the first time wondering if the gods are real at all. Daphne, who’d grown up in a Western religion begins to ask similar questions.
Their journey takes them to an old cave, in which are the secrets of Mau’s ancestors and a secret that unlocks the mystery of the whole world.
Later on, the island is visited by mutineers, cannibals, and worst of all, Daphne’s etiquette-obsessed grandmother whom Daphne suspects killed the 138 people in line to the thrown to see her son wear the crown.

 
If you’re expecting a Discworld book, you’ll be surprised. Despite some funny moments, this isn’t a comedy. There is the occasional witty phrase, but there’s significantly less punning. I felt the end of the book started to sound a little more Discworld when he brought together all the self-important characters for the coronation on a beach. But overall, this book really stands on its own. I won’t disagree with the reviewers who say that this may be Pratchett’s best book yet. The way in which he creates and uses characters is typical Pratchett. Also, the personification of Death–not that Death is the same in this book. It’s a god named Locaha who Mau manages to dodge twice. The book actually resembles Kenneth Opal’s writing a bit. For one, Daphne reminded me of Kate from Airborn–a well-bred girl roughing it on an island. For two, it takes place in an alternate reality. There’s still people like Darwin and Newton, but history is a little different, happening at different times. Toward the end, Pratchett brings this to the foreground by explaining that there is a world somewhere where the wave didn’t happen (our world!). One thing that really resonates with me is when Pratchett describes how a thread connected Mau to how his future was supposed to go. Sometimes people have two threads, seeing themselves in one future and another. For Mau, when the wave destroyed his village, he lost the thread. He couldn’t imagine what was in store for him. This thread is true for me, and I’m sure for many other people. I’ve never heard it described like this. I started to get a little doubtful toward the end of the book when Daphne’s father becomes king and such, but then the epilogue was perfect! Everything came together. I dare you not to cry.

At the end of the book, in the author note, Pratchett warns that this is a book that should make you think. I wouldn’t be surprised if people felt threatened by this book, but that’s the way people are. “He was a good man. He deserved better gods.” Pratchett is a humanist, but he doesn’t preach atheism here. While Mau is very angry and defies his gods, Pratchett is not his characters. He wants people to ask questions, but he’s not telling you what to believe. In fact, in the end, belief is looked upon as a good thing, though belief in what doesn’t seem to be so important as long as people believe in something. Now, I’m not saying I necessarily agree with that statement, but I want to point out that it isn’t atheist propaganda. I was astonished to see that his theme was that it’s good to ask questions, which is what my theme in my book, Riff, was turning out to be. I don’t think I can do it as well as it’s done here! I think a lot of religious people are afraid to question things. Somewhere down the line, we were taught not to question. But what’s there to fear? This book discusses faith not as a sermon but as a calm discussion with the reader. Few books can pull it off so quietly. It approaches it in the same way as Looking For Alaska by John Green. Both books say it’s okay to ask questions even though Pratchett’s coming from a humanist point of view and Green from a Christian one. Isn’t that interesting?

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