Winner of the 2009 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Excellence in Children’s Literature. Winner of the LA Times Book Prize for Young Adult Literature, 2008 .
Recipient of a 2009 Michael L. Printz Honor Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), a division of the American Library Association.
The Independent’s Children’s Book of 2008
UK hbk: Doubleday Young Books With illustrations by Jonny Duddle [not in the US edition], 11 September 2008 (978-0-385-61370-5)
Limited edition of 275 signed copies – the ‘Special Numbered Collectors’ Edition’, bound in a grey metallic flecked cloth with a special design on the front cover, a grey silken bookmark, and photographic end-papers, the front with ‘the Cepheus region including the Pole Star, Northern hemisphere’, and the back with ‘Alpha and Beta Centauri, also four stars forming the constellation of the Southern Cross, Southern hemisphere’. To both of the paste-down end-papers a hermit crab drawn by Johnny Duddle has been added. (978-0-385-61643-0)
‘Waterstones’ Exclusive Limited Edition’ with black jacket, 5,000 numbered copies (978-0-385-61636-2)
Proofs: 120 copies
Trade pbk: Doubleday, 11 September 2008 (978-0-385-61371-2)
Waterstones black cover trade paperback edition, 10,000 copies 4/ June 2009 (for Fathers’ Day) (978-0-385-61712-3)
Pbk. Corgi, 8 October 2009 (978-0-552-55780-1) (B-format: 978-0-552-55779-5)
Special National Theatre poster cover design: Corgi, 26 November 2009 (978-0-552-56194-5)
Black/gold cover: Corgi, 2012 (978-0-552-16237-1)
Large print: ISIS Large Print, 2009 (Hbk 978-0-7531-8432-5; Pbk 978-0-7531-8433-2)
US hbk: HarperCollins, 22 September 2008 (978-0-06-143301-6; library edn. 978-0-06-143302-3)
Proofs: c. 3,000 copies
Trade pbk: Harper, 1 October 2009 (978-0-06-143303-0)
Library hbk for Pbk: Turtleback 1 October 2009 (978-0-606-12236-8)
Bulgarian: Haųия, trs. Katia Ancheva, Arkhont-Vood, December 2012 (978-954-422-100-3)
Czech: Národ, trs. Jan Kantörek, Talpress, 2010 (978-80-7197-375-1)
Dutch: Volk, trs. Venugopalan Ittekot, Meulenhoff, 2014 (978-90-225-6054-9)
Finnish: Valtio, trs. Mika Kivimäki, Karisto, June 2009 (978-951-23-5151-0)
French: Nation, trs. Patrick Couton, L’Atalante, May 2010 (978-2-84172-506-9)
German: Eine Insel, trs. ‘Peder Brehnkmann’ (pseud. of Bernhard Kempen), Manhattan, 2009 (978-3-442-54655-8)
Young hbk: CBT-Verlag, 2009 (978-3-570-13726-0)
Hebrew: א׀מה, trs. Yonatan Bar, Kidmat Eden, 15 September 2009 (317-13)
Winner of the 2010 Geffen Award for the Best Translated Fantasy Book
Korean: Sigongsa, 2010 (978-89-527-5867-5)
Polish: Nacja, trs. Jerzy Kozłowski, Rebis, 2009 (978-83-7510-367-0) new printing 2014
Portuguese: Saida de Emergencia, November 2010
Russian: Eksmo [trs. ?? Tania Samsonova
Spanish: Nación, trs. Miquel Antón, Timun Mas (Scyla), May 2010 (978-84-480-3838-0)
Turkish: Ulus, trs. Niran Elçi, Tudem, 2009 (978-9944-69-381-3)
The comic fantasy novels of Terry Pratchett, author of the Discworld series, are unsentimental about human nature, but not angry — people are self-interested, but they are still capable of goodness, even if they express it in sloppy, conflicted and inept ways. Pratchett’s characteris-tically British comic technique juxtaposes comic exaggeration, like funny names and over-the-top situations, with pomposity-puncturing asides, usually from the characters, but just as often from Pratchett himself, who is a wryly twinkling presence in all of his books.
Nation, Pratchett’s immensely entertaining new young adult novel, manages to be both thought-provoking and sweet. Not a Discworld book, it is more an extended fable than a satire. It is set in a parallel 19th century where the English crown has just been inherited, thanks to a plague, by the 139th heir to the throne, who is currently serving as a colonial governor in the Great Pelagic Ocean (which according to an author’s note, is not really the Pacific).
Meanwhile, the heir’s daughter, Ermintrude, who prefers to be called Daphne, is already en route to join her father when she is shipwrecked by a tsunami on a tropical island. The same island is also home to Mau, a boy who was away on an adolescent vision quest when the wave struck. He comes back to find everyone dead and his entire way of life obliterated. Soon enough, Daphne and Mau meet — at first she sees only a naked savage, and he sees only a pale ‘ghost girl’ — and they are joined by other native survivors, from other islands in the archi-pelago. Under the leadership of Mau and Daphne, they all learn to overcome their mutual misunderstandings and join forces to create a new, syncretic nation that is richer, more complex and — we’re meant to believe — healthier.
This is a tendentious book, in other words, but in the least annoying sense of the word. The climax is downright utopian, as the depredations of colonialism are avoided by youthful courage, good intentions and clever legal legerdemain. At the same time, Pratchett, a master aphorist, gets off a really good one that encapsulates the book’s one-world spirit: ‘The world is a globe—the farther you sail, the closer to home you are.’
The heart of the book is Pratchett’s serious examination of the roots and utility of religion. He’s clearly a skeptic, and at times Nation reads like Philip Pullman, but with less anger and more jokes, and a bit more ambiguity. Both Mau and Daphne question their religious beliefs in the face of their desperate situation, but at the same time, they both hear, quite distinctly, voices in their heads that might be gods, or might just be voices in their heads. Pratchett doesn’t say, though at one point he gives Mau a skeptic’s epiphany: ‘That’s what the gods are! An answer that will do!’
I don’t want to make Nation sound like a tract. It’s a wonderful story, by turns harrowing and triumphant, and Mau and Daphne are complicated and tremendously appealing characters. And since it’s a Terry Pratchett novel, there is also a small army of vivid minor characters, including some colorfully venal British mutineers, a hilariously dry civil servant named Mr. Black and, in a cameo appearance from Discworld, Death himself, who appears here as a god called Locaha. It’s a book that can be read with great pleasure by young readers — and not a few of their parents, I suspect — as both a high-spirited yarn and a subtle examination of the risks and virtues of faith.
James Hynes in New York Times Sunday Book Review
* ‘Somewhere in the South Pelagic Ocean,’ a tidal wave wipes out the population of a small island– except for Mau, who was paddling his dugout canoe home after a month spent alone, preparing to become a man. The wave also sweeps a sailing ship carrying Daphne, an English girl, up onto the island and deposits it in the rainforest, where Mau finds her. Over the months that follow, they learn to communicate, while welcoming more people to their shores and building a community of survivors. Mau searches for the meaning behind his people’s gods, while Daphne applies her nineteenth-century knowledge of science and history to the many puzzles she discovers in this unfamiliar place. Broad in its scope and concrete in its details, this unusual novel strips away the trappings of two very different nations to consider what it’s people value and why. Certain scenes are indelible, such as Mau’s nonverbal communication to Daphne that a pregnant woman has landed, and she must help with the birth, or the protagonists terrifying yet awesome descent into a cave. Quirky wit and broad vision make this a fascinating survival story on many levels. Carolyn Phelan, Booklist
*Two civilizations meet when a tsunami shipwrecks an English vessel on a small tropical island. Representing the empire is the sole survivor of the wreck, the young girl Ermintrude. She meets Mau, a boy on the brink of manhood, and the only survivor of the island’s ‘nation.’ All the attractions of a castaway story are here—including an ingenious use of found materials, exotic plants and animals, nature’s violence, really bad bad guys, and a single footprint in the sand—but this story holds far more. The historical setting is an alternative nineteenth century in which the Russian Plague has killed off the English monarch, and the monarch-in-waiting, King Henry IX, is marooned on the other side of the world. This cheeky premise releases Pratchett into an exploration of the impulse to empire and an examination of a world in which all assumptions – about society, law, science, gender, religion, and justice – are up for questioning. As Mau says, ‘The wave came. These are new days. Who knows what we are?’ The unique pleasure of this story is that all the serious subjects and juicy ethical questions, such as the dilemma of the compassionate lie, are fully woven into action and character. Satirical portraits of upper-class twits, slapstick buffoonery, bad puns, and that particular brand of English wit buoy this story at every turn. Add a romance of gentle sweetness, encounters with ghosts, and lots of gunfire, and it is hard to imagine a reader who won’t feel welcomed into this nation. s.e. *Horn Book Magazine
*Gr 7-10 In this first novel for young people set outside of Discworld, Pratchett again shows his humor and humanity. Worlds are destroyed and cultures collide when a tsunami hits islands in a vast ocean much like the Pacific. Mau, a boy on his way back home from his initiation period and ready for the ritual that will make him a man, is the only one of his people, the Nation, to survive. Ermintrude, a girl from somewhere like Britain in a time like the 19th century, is on her way to meet her father, the governor of the Mothering Sunday islands. She is the sole survivor of her ship (or so she thinks), which is wrecked on Mau’s island. She reinvents herself as Daphne, and uses her wits and practical sense to help the straggling refugees from nearby islands who start arriving. When raiders land on the island, they are led by a mutineer from the wrecked ship, and Mau must use all of his ingenuity to outsmart him. Then, just as readers are settling in to thinking that all will be well in the new world that Daphne and Mau are helping to build, Pratchett turns the story on its head. The main characters are engaging and interesting, and are the perfect medium for the author’s sly humor. Daphne is a close literary cousin of Tiffany Aching in her common sense and keen intelligence wedded to courage. A rich and thought-provoking read. Sue Giffard, Ethical Culture Fieldston School, New York City, School Library Journal
*Pratchett’s latest masterpiece chronicles a lad’s struggle to survive, and far harder struggle to make sense of the universe, after a tsunami wipes out his entire people. Along with the lives of everyone he has ever known, the devastating wave sweeps away Mau’s simple, happy soul—literally, he believes. Fortunately, though much of his angry quest to find something to replace his lost faith in the gods is internal and individual, he acquires company on his tropical island, in the form of the shipwrecked, repressed-but-not-for-long daughter of a high British government official and a ragged group of survivors from other islands who straggle in. This is no heavy-toned tale: tears and rage there may be in plenty, but also a cast of marvellously wrought characters, humor that flies from mild to screamingly funny to out-and-out gross, incredible discoveries, profound insights into human nature and several subplots—one of which involves deeply religious cannibals. A searching exploration of good and evil, fate and free will, both as broad and as deep as anything this brilliant and, happily, prolific author has produced so far. (Fantasy. 11 & up) Kirkus Reviews
*In Carnegie Medallist Pratchett’s (the Discworld novels; A Hat Full of Sky) superb mix of alternate history and fantasy, the king of England, along with the next 137 people in line to the throne, has just succumbed to the plague; the era might be akin to the 1860s or ’70s. As the heir apparent is being fetched from his new post as governor of an island chain in the South Pelagic Ocean, his daughter, the redoubtable Ermintrude, still en route to join him in the South Pelagic, has been shipwrecked by a tsunami. She meets Mau, whose entire people have been wiped out by the great wave (he escaped their fate only because he was undergoing an initiation rite on another island). She and Mau each suffer profound crises of faith, and together they re-establish Mau’s nation from other survivors who gradually wash up on shore and rediscover (with guidance from spirits) its remarkable lost heritage. Neatly balancing the somber and the wildly humorous in a riveting tale of discovery, Pratchett shows himself at the height of his powers. Ages 12–up. Publishers Weekly
Nation was subsequently named one of Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of the Year. It is one of only 14 children’s novels on the list, and PW says of it:
‘In a superb mix of alternate history and fantasy, Pratchett balances the somber and the wildly humorous as his protagonists, lone survivors of disasters, suffer profound crises of faith.’
*…This funny, wise commentary on the meaning of nationalism, set about 150 years ago, isn’t part of Pratchett’s beloved Discworld fantasy series, but his many fans as well as adventure loving YA readers will eat up this appealing tale. The theme of carrying on despite grief and in the face of death seems especially poignant and apt, as Pratchett has been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Racism, feminism, and what it means to be a man are themes that are also addressed, along with the role of religion. Mau is angry at his gods, even while questioning their existence. A classic survival tale that offers laughs and much to mull over, this is a wonderfully entertaining novel for YAs.
Paula Rohrlick in KLIATT
The similarities between children and savages have often been noted by adults. Its greatest expression arrived in Lord of the Flies, but there are plenty of children’s books that explore the less tragic delights of hunting and gathering.
Michelle Paver’s consistently splendid Chronicles of Ancient Darkness (the fifth book in the series, Oath Breaker, is also published this month) is an example of how gripping and life-enhancing the genre can be, but Terry Pratchett’s Nation is another.
Mau, its hero, is making the formal journey from the boys’ island to become a man of the island people who call themselves the Nation. When a great wave comes and kills everyone he knows, he must discover how truly to become a man without any of the customs and supports of his society.
Also shipwrecked is a nice, well-bred English girl whose father has just become the King of England. Sensible, sensitive and resourceful, Daphne is a passionate scientist whose intellectual curiosity has been stifled by a repressive grandmother. How they learn to communicate, find food, deliver a baby and make the Nation’s beer from a poisonous plant is all thrillingly described in the first half of the book.
As her name suggests, Daphne is the chrysalis for one of Pratchett’s most dazzling and dauntless heroines, as tough as Granny Weatherwax and as brave as Tiffany in A Hat Full of Sky.
Yet it is Mau, struggling with the near-madness that the destruction of his people brings about, who is particularly sympathetic. His ancestral grandfathers hector him in capital letters: “EVERYTHING THE NATION WAS, YOU ARE! WHILE YOU ARE, THE NATION IS! WHILE YOU REMEMBER, THE NATION LIVES!”
The internal drama of his predicament outweighs the external. Unlike the Discworld novels, the magic and gods appealed to may not exist.
It is hard not to see the terrible wave crashing through Mau’s people’s memories as an extended metaphor for the Alzheimer’s that has stricken Pratchett’s ever-fertile mind, and Mau’s struggle to recreate something new out of devastation akin to the author’s grappling with an assault on his creative powers. Yet like all serious writers of fantasy, Pratchett has always been preoccupied with death. It is curious how those who dislike this form of literature believe it to be escapist when in fact it tends towards the opposite, dramatising the sorrow of eternal loss.
“When much is taken, something is returned,” a wise old man tells Mau, and if our hero and heroine lose their adult guides they also lose the unnecessary constraints of their respective cultures.
Their gathering together of a scattered, shattered people is achieved under terrific pressure, for as well as sharks to scare away and treasure to discover, there are the traditional cannibal enemies of the Nation about to invade and two villains from Daphne’s shipwrecked boat. How can a boy, a girl, a toothless old woman and a mother with a newborn baby possibly hope to survive? How can they learn each other’s language and interpret their growing feelings for each other? Like other Pratchett novels, Nation is set in a parallel universe, though it is not that of Discworld: of course, every fiction is set in a parallel universe, as the intelligent reader should notice, but often fails to.
This is an enchanting novel, written in clear, direct English with less of the Baroque jokes and digressions that Pratchett’s fans enjoy, though with plenty left in to leaven its serious concerns. Despite his best-selling status, and his Carnegie medal, I still think that Terry Pratchett is one of the most interesting and critically underrated novelists we have. Books such as the forthcoming guide to his invented universe, The Folklore of Discworld – co-authored with the eminent folklorist Jacqueline Simpson – emphasise his irreverence and drollery, but they also add to the impression that he is as much an acquired taste as warm English beer. For those resistant to the wilder shores of fantasy, however, Nation is as good a place as any to start. Amanda Craig, The Times
Although nominally a children’s book, Terry Pratchett’s latest effort has enough depth to it to make it a satisfying read for all ages…. Darker and more melancholy than you might expect, with fewer gags than usual, this is proof that Pratchett is not just a wit, but also a writer of substance. SFX
Leader of men
Terry Pratchett’s South Sea adventure is a comic triumph, says Frank Cottrell Boyce
It’s 25 years since Terry Pratchett invented Discworld. If there’s any justice, the Post Office will issue a set of silver jubilee stamps, the government will declare a national holiday, and giant turtles will parade through our municipal parks. Pratchett himself has celebrated in brilliantly perverse fashion by producing a non-Discworld book.
Nation takes place on a South Sea island in a skewed version of the 19th century. As a genre, the desert island adventure story has more than its fair share of masterpieces, including Robinson Crusoe, Treasure Island and Lord of the Flies. Nation sits comfortably alongside them. It tells the story of Mau, a South Sea islander who is about to move from boyhood to manhood via a traditional rite of passage. This involves him being taken to a nearby haunted island and left there to find his own way home. When Mau gets home, however, home has vanished. A tidal wave has washed away his whole society and replaced it with a wrecked survey ship and a well-brought-up young British girl, Daphne.
At first these two are wary of each other – Mau is not even sure that Daphne is real – and Pratchett has a lot of fun with their inability to understand each other, and their attempts to hold on to their own cultures. There’s a particularly funny and poignant scene in which Daphne invites Mau to tea. Her invitation helpfully includes a map with arrows on it. Mau takes this to mean she wants him to fire arrows at her. She tries to cook scones for him, but the flour is contaminated by dead lobsters. As the potential for misunderstanding and danger mounts, there’s an electrifying moment when he suddenly grasps that she means well.
As the days go by, the island fills up with refugees, and both children find themselves having to do things their culture would never allow. The polite, repressed Daphne learns all about breastfeeding and has to chew meat for an old lady with no teeth. When the growing community comes under threat from raiders, Mau finds to his surprise and horror that he has to lead a people after all. There’s a twist that gave me goosepimples of delight: if you read it to your 10-year-olds, they will gasp and giggle.
At the same time, you could read it to a conference of philosophy professors and they would learn something. Nation has profound, subtle and original things to say about the interplay between tradition and knowledge, faith and questioning. During his initiation ritual, for instance, Mau discovers that the island isn’t haunted at all, and that his dad and uncle have already been there and left supplies and a canoe for him. On one level this means the ancient ritual is a piece of empty theatre. In another sense, though, it’s a rite of passage that is supposed to teach him self-reliance and courage. In fact, it gives Mau a much more profound knowledge – of how much his dad loves him and how valued he is by his society. Without the theatre of the ghosts, he wouldn’t experience the reality of the love.
Pratchett has visited this theme before, in the Bromeliad trilogy, where a group of nomes have developed an obviously stupid religion based on a magic stone, ‘the Thing’, and a belief in ‘the Heavens’. It’s ridiculous, but it turns out to be sort of true. Something similar happens in Nation, but I can’t go into details without spoiling it.
Pratchett is, like Mark Twain, or Jonathan Swift, not just a great writer but also an original thinker. Look at his heroes, for instance. Mau drifts into power partly out of weakness. He accepts responsibility because it’s easier than arguing about things. The more responsibility he takes on, the more people depend on him until, in the end, he becomes their leader by default. And then, of course, he has to act as a leader is supposed to act. It’s more interesting, more true and more forgiving than anything you’ll see on the news or in a political memoir. Am I making it sound heavy-going? It really isn’t. It’s funny, exciting, lighthearted and, like all the best comedy, very serious. In some part of the multiverse there is probably a civilisation based on the thinking of Terry Pratchett – and what a civilised civilisation that will be.
Frank Cottrell Boyce, The Guardian
We are told in this novel that Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star is a good song for children because it begins with a question. Terry Pratchett’s Nation is both a story and a series of questions about big themes: notably the existence of God. Set on a small island in the Pacific in the heyday of the British Empire (in a parallel universe), it is the tale of a culture wiped out by a tsunami. Mau, a 13-year-old boy returning from a rite-of-passage journey, finds himself the only survivor. Meanwhile the wave carries a ship onto the land, with Daphne, a primly brought-up governor’s daughter, on board. After comic misunderstandings, the boy and girl lead a community of refugees to the island. Mau rethinks the values of his culture, questioning his faith and exploring notions of science and history; and Daphne learns to amputate limbs. Thought-provoking as well as fun, this is Pratchett at his most philosophical, with characters and situations sprung from ideas and games with language. And it celebrates the joy of the moment. Nicolette Jones, The Sunday Times
PRATCHETT’S latest young adult novel may be his first non-Discworld book since 1996 but it shares plenty with its predecessors.
Like his young witch Tiffany Aching, tsunami survivors Mau and Daphne combine the resourcefulness of a good junior protagonist with awkwardness and moments of terror that any real kid will recognise.
Or any real adult – just as Pratchett’s ‘adult’ books have always been popular with kids, so few of his adult readers would be fool enough to disregard his YA work.
The big difference is that by setting Nation somewhere nearer the real world, he’s able to sidestep the narrative neatness he’s established as Discworld physics, addressing the way that on top of all life’s other problems, things often don’t turn out how they ‘ought’.
Meanwhile there’s room to deal with belief, cross-cultural misunderstandings, overbearing relatives and the splendid incorrigibility of parrots. Ages 11 plus. Derby Evening Telegraph
Terry Pratchett is an indisputable one-off. Aged 15 when his first story was published, he has gone on to write many more completely individual graphic novels, plays, children’s books and science-fiction stories. There are also over 30 titles in his extraordinary Discworld series. As he draws from Ancient Egyptian culture, opera, Shakespeare, the Marx brothers and legions of other sources, nothing he writes is ever predictable – except that it will always be gloriously readable. Now, aged 60 but faced by a diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s, he presents his all-age fans with one of his finest books yet.
Set on a tiny island in the Pacific threatened by pirates as well as by its inheritance of accumulated ignorance and prejudice, Nation shows how individuals with intellectual courage can still help bring about a just society capable of defeating its worst enemies. Like Philip Pullman, Pratchett has a liking for parallel worlds. In this novel Daphne, a conventionally reared adolescent in a half-recognisable period of British history, is wrecked following a tsunami. She meets teenage Mau, the only local survivor. Together they learn to communicate, each cautiously giving up their received ideas. They are then faced with crowds of refugees making their way to the island, in flight from a group of marauding cannibals.
But Mau’s greatest task is to cease believing in his tribe’s fiercely patriarchal gods, whose gloomy injunctions make themselves heard in his subconscious. Daphne also has to dismiss everything her poisonous British grandmother has taught her about class or race. Slowly, the two work out a common language and a system of beliefs.
The idea of starting out afresh on a tiny island has brought out the best in fiction writers from Defoe to William Golding. Children relish these stories, but in this novel Pratchett is writing for everyone. Mau’s Dawkins-type monologues as he questions all his supernatural beliefs go on a bit at times, but also point the way to Pratchett’s central belief in the power of science and reason to liberate – if left in the right hands. True to form, Mau’s island ends up incorporated by the Royal Society as a haven for visiting scholars.
Odd anthropological insights – sometimes backed up by jaunty footnotes – combine with fantasy as Pratchett introduces tree-climbing octopuses and beer that has to be spat in to make it potable. There are plenty of jokes. Aware that local gossip is trying to pair her off with Mau, Daphne thinks ‘It was like being in a Jane Austen novel, but one with far less clothing’.
Devoted readers seldom get the chance to celebrate their favourite authors en masse. But if Pratchett’s many fans ever got the chance, they could certainly fill the largest football stadium in the land. If they also started chanting ‘There’s only one Terry Pratchett!’, this would be no more than a truth universally acknowledged. Nicholas Tucker, The Independent
At one point in this excellent new novel, a boy named Mau desperately needs to find milk for a starving infant. Unfortunately, he’s on a virtually deserted island, and there just aren’t any cows or nursing mothers around.
There is only one possible source of nourishment for the baby, and Mau risks his life to procure it. Even now the thought of what the boy does still makes me shudder. In a lifetime packed with both extensive reading and vivid nightmares, I can honestly say that I have never come across anything quite so . . . well, there is no adequate word to describe an act that is as heroic as it is disgusting. For this scene alone, no reader is ever likely to forget Terry Pratchett’s Nation. Not that I would short-change the memorability of its ghosts, cannibals, bloodthirsty mutineers, forbidden burial grounds and secret treasure. Exciting in themselves, these also play their part in Pratchett’s latest examination of some fundamental questions about religious belief, the nature of culture and what it means to be human.
But let’s start at the beginning.
When Russian influenza strikes Britain in the mid-19th century, not even the royal family is spared. The king and his 138 immediate possible successors quickly succumb, and the throne descends, improbably, to His Excellency, the Governor of Port Mercia, a trading post far away in the Great Southern Pelagic Ocean. During the consequent state of emergency, that swift sailing ship, the Cutty Wren, immediately sets forth to alert the governor of his new position — and on board are several mysterious passengers, including five shrouded figures referred to as the ‘Gentlemen of Last Resort’ and two women, one the unlikely sovereign’s elderly but formidable mother. She is aptly described as ‘a mixture of the warrior queen Boadicea without the chariot, Catherine de’ Medici without the poisoned rings, and Attila the Hun without his wonderful sense of fun.’
As should already be clear, Nation is – as Terry Pratchett tells us in his author’s note –’set in a parallel universe, a phenomenon known only to advanced physicists and anyone who has ever watched any episode of any SF series, anywhere.’ It is also what’s called a crossover novel, which means that while Nation may be aimed primarily at bright-eyed young adults – as were Philip Pullman‘s His Dark Materials trilogy and the Harry Potter books of J.K. Rowling – many grizzled old adults are likely to enjoy it, too. You don’t even need to know anything about Pratchett’s earlier work: It’s a stand-alone book, with no connection whatsoever to Discworld.
Even though Pratchett’s name is virtually synonymous with this justly celebrated fantasy series (more than 35 Discworld titles at last count), he does write outside its frame from time to time. So don’t look in Nation for the witch Granny Weatherwax or Captain Vimes of the City Watch or the elderly Cohen the Barbarian or even the Wee Free Men. Oh, a couple of characters sometimes slightly recall Discworld figures: For instance, the sinister Mr. Black’s diction resembles that of the suave and dangerous Lord Vetinari, and Death — a prominent and surprisingly talkative character of the series — appears here too, though he now goes by the name Locaha. But that’s it. Nation remains at heart a novel of ideas, a ferocious questioning of vested cultural attitudes and beliefs. In form it is a classic ‘Robinsonade,’ that is, a book in which characters are marooned on a desert island and there create a little civilization of their own.
For, as it happens, just about the time that the Cutty Wren leaves England for Port Mercia, the Southern Pelagic Ocean suffers widespread devastation from a monster tsunami. Even that sturdy ship, the Sweet Judy, finds herself caught up by the gigantic mountain of water and is sent crashing onto a small island. The sole survivor of the wreck turns out to be a young girl of 13 who is also, as it happens, the only child of the unlikely new king of England. Poor Ermintrude finds herself seemingly alone on an island inhabited largely by wild pigs and repulsive ‘grandfather birds.’ These ‘ugly-looking things didn’t just eat everything, they ate all of everything, and carefully threw up anything that didn’t fit, taste right, or had woken up and started to protest.’
Yet Ermintrude – or Daphne, as she takes to calling herself since she’s always hated her real name — isn’t, in fact, alone. Of all the many islanders, just one boy has been spared by the gods: Mau. But spared for what reason, if any? Mau has lost everyone he ever loved, everything he knew, all that he had looked forward to being part of, his entire world. He alone survives of the Nation. Half crazed by grief, he soon starts to hear the ancient voices of the Grandfathers ringing in his ears, constantly whining for the age-old rituals and their special beer and the restoration of the ‘god anchors’ that have been swept away by the great wave. Little wonder that Mau first imagines that the pale Ermintrude, or rather Daphne, must be a ghost.
Eventually, of course, these two young people – a girl who one day might become the Queen of England and the boy who is, by default, the chief of the Nation – join forces and together begin the long effort of survival. It is a thrilling story. And, as I said earlier, a deeply philosophical one, especially for a young adult novel. Mau’s doubts are those that haunt anyone who has lived with undeserved misfortune. Why did the gods destroy the Nation, including innocent children and babies? Do such deities deserve worship? Are they in fact real, or do things simply happen or not happen? What are the claims of tradition against the needs of the present and future? And, most simply, what is a man, and what are his obligations to himself and to others?
While Mau’s education revolves around such spiritual and intellectual conundrums, Daphne’s is more practical: This hitherto sheltered daughter of privilege learns that she is a woman of power, at once strong, resolute and utterly indomitable. By the end of the novel, the girl who had been taught that ‘a lady should never lift anything heavier than a parasol and should certainly never set foot in a kitchen’ will chew the food for a toothless old crone, midwife the birth of a baby, saw off a man’s leg, poison a murderer and even descend alone into the realm of the dead.
Old crone? Baby? Where, you might wonder, did they come from? Over time, various other survivors of the tsunami gradually make their way to Mau’s island, bringing with them their troubles, talents and difficult personalities. The Sweet Judy is gradually stripped of its useful materials: After all, ‘since there was going to be a future, it would need a roof over its head.’ Yet always the tireless, hard-working Mau is assailed by the voices of the Grandfathers, mocking his efforts, calling upon him to bring back the old traditions. But Mau has learned to think for himself and ceaselessly wonders about the nature of his world: Who made the white stones called ‘god anchors’? And what secret lies hidden deep within the cave of the Grandfathers? The ultimate answer to both these questions would be right at home in an Indiana Jones movie.
Still, even the most esoteric mysteries diminish in importance before the growing threat of the Raiders, roving cannibals who worship the death-god Locaha. Mau points out that there’s nothing much left on the island, so ‘What have we still got that they would want?’ And the old priest Ataba answers: ‘Skulls. Flesh. Their pleasure in our death. The usual things.’
Yes, the usual things, indeed. But there’s worse yet: it turns out that an evil mutineer named Cox may have become their new leader, and Daphne knows him all too well. ‘Like crocodiles and sharks, Cox always had a grin for people, especially when he had them at his mercy, or at least where his mercy would be if he had any.’
While Nation occasionally moves a little slowly, it soon develops great momentum, and we come to care and worry about Mau, Daphne and the others. Moreover, this being a Pratchett novel, the writing is always a pleasure, albeit somewhat muted compared to Discworld’s higher-pitched zinginess – though not always or wholly so: ‘It was, according to the history books, the fastest coronation since Bubric the Saxon crowned himself with a very pointy crown on a hill during a thunderstorm, and reigned for one and a half seconds.’
And then, of course, there’s the cook on the Sweet Judy, who transforms his coffin into a well-provisioned life raft. He tells Daphne, ‘I got the idea off a harpooner I met when I was working on the whalers.’ Harpooner, coffin? Could it be? Cookie goes on: ‘He was a rum ‘un and no mistake. Had more tattoos than the Edinburgh Festival and all his teeth filed as sharp as daggers, but he lugged this coffin onto every ship he sailed with so’s if he died, he’d have a proper Christian funeral and not be chucked over the side sown up in a bit o’ canvas with a cannonball for company. I thought about it myself – it’s a good basic idea, but it needs a little bit of changing. Anyway, I didn’t stay long on that ship on account of coming down with bowel weevils just before we rounded the cape, and I had to put ashore at Valparaiso. It was probably a blessing in disguise, ’cause I reckon that ship was heading for a bad end. I’ve seen a few mad captains in my time, but that one was as crazy as a spoon. And you may depend upon it, when the captain is crazy, so is the ship. I often wonder what happened to ’em all.’ Yes, Cookie, you were right: That ship and her captain were definitely heading for a bad end. But Nation isn’t. It’s a terrific, thought-provoking book, and it ends wonderfully.
Michael Dirda, lead review in the Book World section, The Washington Post
A standalone novel, notionally for younger readers – the Carnegie Medal win is blazoned on the British hardcover’s front cover – but a long way from being childish. … this alternate-nineteenth-century adventure has an effective, hard-edged simplicity…. Without any lessening of comedy, Pratchett sets up a tension between various loyalties – to individuals, countries, governments, history, and truth – which shapes a highly effective finale and aftermath. Funny thoughtful, touching . . . and with land-dwelling, tree-climbing octopi too!
David Langford in The New York Review of Science Fiction,
The sea has taken everything. Mau is the only one left after a giant wave sweeps his island village away. But when much is taken, something is returned, and somewhere in the jungle Daphne — a girl from the other side of the globe — is the sole survivor of a ship destroyed by the same wave. Together the two confront the aftermath of catastrophe.
Drawn by the smoke of Mau and Daphne’s sheltering fire, other refugees slowly arrive: children without parents, mothers without babies, husbands without wives — all of them hungry and all of them frightened. As Mau and Daphne struggle to keep the small band safe and fed, they defy ancestral spirits, challenge death himself, and uncover a long-hidden secret that literally turns the world upside down.
In this newest YA novel from admired fantasy author Terry Pratchett, he steps out of his usual setting of Discworld and writes a story that takes place in our own world, though sometime in the mid-1800s. But like other Pratchett novels, it is written in third person omniscient and goes between several characters, though mostly through Mau and Daphne. Although this may seem like a simple re-telling of the flood story in a more recent time period, it is a lot more than that — this book questions beliefs, class and ethnic differences, and many more.
Pratchett knows how to make his readers think while reading his novels, and does a great job at it. Hopefully, that hasn’t scared people off yet because along with the thinking and the questioning, there’s also the humour. Pratchett’s novels are filled with humour, though not usually the slapstick kind (of course, an occasional slapstick scene is put in because those are funny too).
His humour is more subtle and is something many enjoy while reading his books – the wit doesn’t overpower anything else, nor does it feel forced to make the story lighter despite all the tragedy happening around it. It is put in effortlessly and is weaved throughout, keeping it commonplace and not out of place in any way. There’s also some fantastic action scenes in this book, more notably toward the middle and end, and all of these together make this book a highly recommended read.
One sidenote though, for people who are already Pratchett lovers — if you like his footnotes, don’t look here for them because they are very few (only five in the whole book and four of them are used by page 90).
Lifestyle, The Sunday Leader, Sri Lanka
The marooned-on-an-island theme is one of absolute virtuosity in the hands of science fiction and fantasy master, English author Terry Pratchett (the Discworld series, The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents). Mau, newly separated from his family and his tribal island community, the Nation, for a month so that he can become a man on Boys’ Island, is swept up in a devastating wave that destroys the world around him. When he returns to his seaside village, nothing remains. He quickly realizes that if he is to survive, he must quickly grow up in this bleak new landscape.
Yet, just as loneliness threatens to overtake him, he discovers that humans were not entirely swept off the grid. A young British girl, Daphne, emerges from the jungle, the sole survivor of a ship wrecked by the tsunami.
And over time, other traumatized refugees – men, women and children – start showing up on the beach, looking for camaraderie.
Together, Mau and Daphne learn to communicate with each other and forge a way of life for their new community. With a mixture of hard-learned science and physical work, the pair thrive in their defiance of nasty influential island spirits, old class systems and – yes! – cannibals.
Funny, clever and, above all, an old-fashioned fabulous story that will tickle anyone pining for a rollicking adventure tale. 14 and up Chicago Tribune
Mau is alone on an island, finishing up the tasks that will prove his manhood, when a tsunami comes and devastates the Nation, the largest village in the archipelago that is home to his people. When he finds his way home, he is alone among the corpses of his community, except for a ‘ghost girl’, Daphne, whose ship was washed ashore on the same wave. Despite being wary of each other, the two start life anew, and their fire attracts other survivors who come, broken and grieving, from surrounding islands to start a new community. Mau’s grief has mostly taken the form of anger against the gods who were supposed to protect and warn their village but who instead took all of his family and left only him. As he rails against the gods, he discovers a new kind of freedom and independent spirit, an assertiveness born of realising that faith will not protect himself or the new villagers, but that they must be self-sufficient and practical instead. In this, Daphne is a good companion, having been raised on rationality herself. Together they discover the secret history behind the god stones revered by the Nation as anchors to the deities: the stones are manmade, and Mau’s people were once a sea-faring, adventurous folk who knew as much or more about the world as the Europeans. When Daphne’s father finally finds her, then, he gets a lesson on the nature of savagery and empire, which is handy as he is about to be crowned King of England. Pratchett’s signature wit takes a back seat here to more important philosophical reflections and questions about the world and our place in it, but it still makes a fair appearance as a back-seat driver, particularly in and through the character of Daphne, who has as much spirit, pluck and practicality as Pratchett’s heroine Tiffany Aching (from The Wee Free Men, BCCB, 7/03 etc), whether she is making beer, amputating a leg, or poisoning a pirate. Though Mau questions his gods, the ultimate message is one of reverence, redemption, and grace, making this an utterly satisfying tale on multiple levels. KC in The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
It’s been a few years since Terry Pratchett last stepped out of his hugely successful Discworld universe. Nation, his wonderful new novel for young adults, is set in a world very similar to our own. The Nation is an island in the South Pelagic (not, the author insists in his afterword, the South Pacific); an island so small that it doesn’t show up on European maps. Mau, a resident of the Nation, is returning from the Boys’ Island to complete the rituals that will make him officially a man. By the time he reaches, a tidal wave has swept away the village, killed everyone he knows, and deposited a British ship in the middle of the forest. When she first boarded the Sweet Judy, Ermintrude (she prefers to be known as Daphne) was 139th in line to the throne of an England that rules most of the world, and that is afraid of nothing but the human leg. Now the direct heir, she must face the challenges afforded by a lewd parrot, a shortage of napkins, and a boy who refuses to wear trousers.
Any number of shipwreck stories for children have been written over the centuries. Mau and Daphne’s adventures are not merely concerned with survival or buried treasure (though they face both of these too). They must re-forge a nation from the survivors of the wave and from what they learn of the island’s past.
Leadership for Pratchett involves doing all the dirty work and isn’t much fun. While Daphne must amputate limbs, deliver babies, and chew food for a toothless old woman, Mau is forced to commit unmentionable acts to obtain milk for a small child. Both must constantly battle the voices of their ancestors. The Grandfathers (whose two main concerns are religion and beer) shout constantly and irascibly in Mau’s head. Daphne has to overcome the teachings of a grandmother (‘a mixture of Boadicea without the chariot, Catherine de Medici without the poisoned rings and Attila the Hun without his wonderful sense of fun.’) with strong views on ladylike behaviour and the dangers of Going Native. Set during the strongest days of the British Empire, Nation has a lot to say about colonialism, most of it scathing.
‘I can prove that no European has been in this cave before me.’
Daphne looked around, chest heaving with passion. ‘See the gold on the gods and the globe and the big door?’
‘Yes. Of course, dear. I could hardly fail to notice.’
‘There you are, then,’ said Daphne, picking up the lamp. ‘It’s still here!’
Then there’s the budding romance between Daphne and Mau, watched closely by the rest of the Nation (‘it was like being in a Jane Austen novel, but one with far less clothing’) and punctuated with adorable cannibal-centred compliments.
‘No, they would never eat a woman,’ said Mau.
‘That’s very gentlemanly of them!’
‘No, they would feed you to their wives, so that they become beautiful.’*
But the children have gone through trauma to get this far. Worn out from performing the last rites of his entire tribe, Mau is constantly questioning his gods, looking for an answer that will make his world make sense. Daphne has been doing the same since the death of her mother. In a book that tells us that ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ is a good song for a child because ‘it began with a question’, this questioning of everything becomes, for Pratchett, something of a moral imperative. Nation begins and ends with pictures of the stars, and on the last page is printed a map of the world with South at the top. Pratchett will not condemn characters who shrink from, literally in this case, having their world turned upside down, but they’re never the ones he chooses as his heroes.
*There’s also a lovely moment when an elderly cannibal, having quizzed Daphne about her status as a wise woman, is finally convinced that she is incredibly clever and shyly informs her that he’d like to eat her brains. Aww.
Aishwarya Subramanian, on blog, Kaleidoglide, 5/11/08, and previously, slightly edited, in Business Standard. New Delhi
When I think back on the version of history that I learned from attending school and from reading I can’t decide which I find more amazing; the conceit of Europeans to believe that they were doing things first or that supposedly rational and intelligent people accepted those ‘fact’ without question. Even as they traversed the globe discovering new people and evidence of ancient civilizations in countless places European explorers, and subsequently historians, remained unshakeable in their belief that nobody before them could have possibly been capable of doing the things they did.
Even in the twentieth century when Thor Heyerdahl was able to prove, by successfully recreating their voyages, that earlier cultures had accomplished many of those feats long before Europeans, people were, and are, still reluctant to accept that we weren’t the first. Unfortunately quite a bit of that reluctance is based on the attitude that before contact with us, everybody were just savages who couldn’t possibly have been sophisticated enough to build boats sturdy enough for ocean travel, let alone navigate them across the ocean and back again.
It was during the height of Britain’s colonial rule in the 19th century that the term ‘White Man’s Burden’ was coined. The great burden that the Empire shouldered in those days was the task of bringing the light of ‘civilization’ to all those poor misguided dark skinned people around the world. Of course you couldn’t expect miracles, but it was at least hoped they could be taught English and to put pants on every so often, especially in mixed company.
In his most recent release, and his first for young audiences, Nation, published by HarperCollins, Terry Pratchett has not only created a wonderful tale of self-discovery, he rebukes those histories of our childhood that had us believing nothing of importance happened before the white man appeared on the face of the earth. With a remote South Pacific archipelago as its location, and an alternate 19th century as the reality, Nation is the story of two young people from vastly different backgrounds thrown together by nature and what they experience together.
Mau was no longer a boy, as was proven by his having survived his time alone on Boy’s Island. However instead of his heading home to the island home of his people for his celebration feast, the world had something far different in store for him. A tsunami wiped out the entire population of his island, destroying his whole nation, and leaving him entirely alone – or so he thinks. Unknown to him the storm that sent his people away brought him Ermintrude Fanshaw (the Honourable Miss) who is 139th in succession to the throne of England, via the ship Sweet Judy that the wave had picked up and planted on his home island.
While it’s true that Ermintrude, who would much rather be called Daphne thank you very much, must face up the fact that nothing in her previous life has prepared her for being stranded on a desert island, her plight is nothing compared to what Mau has to overcome. One of the first tasks he has to undertake upon his return to his home is burying all of his former friends and family by dragging their bodies into the sea and weighing them down with stones so they will sink. What kind of Gods are his that they would allow everyone to be killed? He wants nothing to do with any of them any more. In fact if not for Daphne he might have surrendered to death instead of having to cope with the sense of loss and betrayal.
As the days pass and the two young people establish their new home they begin teaching each other bits and pieces of their respective languages and how to survive. Once they are able to light a fire, other refugees start to trickle in attracted by the smoke and the knowledge that this island has always been favoured by the Gods. The newcomers are shocked by Mau’s attitude of feeling betrayed by the Gods and come to think of him as a demon, At the same time though they can’t help but respect him for his ability to find ways of taking care of them. Who else would think of attempting to milk a pig in order to feed a starving baby?
However it falls to Daphne to discover the most amazing thing about the island and its history. She convinces Mau that he must uncover the ‘Grandfather’s cave’ where all the old warriors of the tribe were laid to rest. With the help of a crow bar that was part of the tool kit on the Sweet Judy they are able to roll back the cap stone and aside from discovering the corpses of many generations of men, they discover a chamber depicting information and technology that the people had known about at one time. There’s even a map of the heavens showing various planets marked out in glass and gold on the ceiling.
As far as Daphne is concerned the chamber of the ancestors proves that at one time the people of Mau’s nation had been great seafarers and had travelled around the world long before any other people. It’s this discovery that she uses when the inevitable happens and she is ‘rescued’, to convince her father that Mau’s island should be left alone and deserves not to conscripted into the British Empire. Unfortunately, along with her rescue comes a return to reality, and the realization that the two friends must separate as Daphne is needed back in her old life, as much as the island needs Mau.
Nation by Terry Pratchett is a wonderful book for many reasons but what I found to be most compelling was the way in which he brings to life the changes that each of his two main characters goes through. Not only does it make for a more interesting story that way, as it maintains our interest in Mau and Daphne far more than is usual in a book written for young people, but it also serves as an example to those reading of the benefits of being open to new ideas.
The idea that this supposedly primitive island nation had at one time travelled the world is not at all far fetched, as it has already been proven that many of the Polynesian and South Pacific nations had at one time been great seafarers. By making this a key element of the story Pratchett is opening his reader’s eyes to the fact that Europeans were not the first great explorers of the world and that we need to be careful in making judgements on a people simply because they dress and look different than we do. Unlike so many writers though, Pratchett has incorporated this ‘lesson’ so thoroughly into the story that you never feel like you are being preached at or being told how to think. Rather he carefully builds his arguments by allowing us to see everything through the eyes of his characters. It’s their reactions to circumstances, the thought process they go through to form their opinions, that gives the reader the opportunity to gain a greater understanding of the world.
Of course no Pratchett book is complete without humour, and Nation is no exception. However there is also a level of sadness to the work as it becomes obvious that Daphne and Mau are becoming very close, and equally obvious that they will not be able to be together. There’s a beautiful little afterword to the book, which genuinely brought a tear to my eye, something I’d not expected from either a book by Terry Pratchett or one written for young people.
Nation by Terry Pratchett may be nominally a book for young people, but it is a tale that will bring pleasure to people of all ages. Intelligent, entertaining, and a little sad, Nation might make you think at times, but it will never bore you. It’s too bad we couldn’t receive more of our education through books like this. Richard Marcus, in blogcritics.org
Pratchett’s back in our world
Considering his penchant for the multiple universe theory, it is not surprising that Terry Pratchett has shied away from the Discworld with his latest book.
This time around he places his story in a world suspiciously like our own, but with a few twists that sets it apart from our reality or that on the disc that swims through the universe on the back of a turtle, supported by four elephants.
Pratchett stopped being ha ha funny around the time he wrote Fifth Elephant and when his Discworld stories took on a darker tone. He’d always been a great proponent of irony up until that point, but that was when the sarcasm became more pointed and by the time Monstrous Regiment rolled around, his social commentary about the nature of wars was quite critical.
With Nation he’s aiming somewhere between Tiffany Aching and the more adult Discworld, which marks a return to the teenage market.
The story starts off on a suspiciously Pacific-like island where a young boy, Mau, has just completed a rite of passage into adulthood. As he goes back to his own island a tsunami strikes and he returns to a home completely destroyed, now minus people.
The only other occupant wandering around the island is a shipwrecked girl. They don’t speak the same language or know anything about each other’s cultures, but the voices in Mau’s head are telling him that it is up to the two of them to restore the nation.
Pratchett is at his best when he takes what seems to be a familiar story or plot and tears it apart to mix it up with some not so well-known legends, a dash of urban myth and lots of common sense.
While Nation could at worst be described as ‘Blue Lagoon meets Captain James Cook’, Pratchett’s spin on it elevates it to something a little better than a six-word pitch for a film.
He’s off auto pilot, turning in an at times sad, sometimes even bitter story about looking for a reason for loss . Who knows whether the railing against the powers-that-be is a reflection of Pratchett’s own frame of mind, what with his diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
While the Victorian setting is rich with vintage Pratchett detail like the parrot with the foul mouth or the tree-climbing octopus that can count, the plot is fairly straight-forward when compared to something like Good Omens.
Pratchett bends his universe around his story, so that introducing an ancient civilisation that doesn’t fit into the commonly accepted way of thinking is his way of saying: ‘Pay attention.’
For him, writing fantasy is more than just telling stories about wizards waving their wands around, it is about seeing the world from new directions. With this story he is trying to make a statement about how whoever controls the flow of information, controls how people think.
The easy way he can take various seemingly incompatible stories, mythologies and ways of thinking to create something coherent feeds into that very concept. If you know nothing about ancient Polynesian cultures or Victorian-era exploration, this story becomes a touchstone against which you measure everything you find out about the subjects from now on. Theresa Smith, in Tonight, Independent News & Media, South Africa
“Thinking: This book contains some. Whether you try it at home is up to you.” This is the last line of an addendum to Terry Pratchett’s newest novel, Nation. It sounds like a warning label, except that no one places a caveat at the end. It should be a challenge. The reader has finished the story, and what happens next depends on him or her.
Critical thinking is a classic Pratchett concept, as any fan of his Discworld series can attest to. This new book has a lot of his familiar old tunes: internal conflict, human dignity, gender identity, survival at odds with nobility, quantum theory, a few silly footnotes, even an anthropomorphic Death.
This is a new death, however, not the usual representation of a wry, sometimes comical, scythe wielding Grim Reaper that speaks absolutely in ALL CAPS. Locaha is a god of death that talks to the main character in italics, exotic and seductive.
This is because Nation does not take place on the parodic Discworld, but on a small Pacific island in a history that might have been ours. The ideas are familiar, but without a buffer of satire, they suddenly connect in a new and more personal way.
For an author who has published one to three novels every year since 1986, this is quite a feat. Pratchett is a natural storyteller, but this new one feels more constructed than usual, with layer upon layer of plot and character and philosophy carefully balanced upon each other. It starts out tentatively, awkwardly self-aware. Once the story kicks in and the characters are allowed to move about freely, though, Nation is a big, breathing, entertaining novel.
It begins with a creation story, of a god that makes a world of water and islands and people and death, and then leaves. The narrative truly begins with the end of that world. A giant wave sweeps over a group of islands in the Pacific Ocean. On the largest island, home to a tribe known as the Nation, only one person survives the disaster. Mau is a teenage boy who is just beginning to learn how to be an adult. The wave takes everything away from him: his family, his traditions and – he fears – his soul. However, as one fisherman says, when something is taken, something must be returned. The wave leaves a giant ship on the island, with a British girl who calls herself Daphne.
Both Mau and Daphne are faced with a choice. The world has ended, and they can either stand up to the challenge of living on, or give in to Locaha. The decision becomes more complicated as people slowly make their way to the Nation, looking for someone to take responsibility. ‘[The survivors] had become a kind of floating village – but one of children without parents, parents without children, wives without husbands, people without all those things around them that told them what they were.’ There is nothing but chaos, and people need the structure of a Nation. So under the leadership of Mau, they begin to build one.
Mau has been changed, though. The voices of his dead ancestors scream at him, telling him to put things back to the way they were before, the long traditions of community and religion. Mau quickly realizes that he can never make things the same. His believes his soul is gone, and has been replaced with questions. There are no easy answers to why bad things happen and what to do next. Ataba, an old priest tells him ‘in our heads we know there must be . . . something, some reason, some pattern, some order, so we call upon the silent gods, because they are better than the darkness . . . I have no answers for you.’
‘Then I’ll look for them in the darkness,’ Mau replies. He curses the gods because he no longer believes in them, but does not know what else there is to believe in, except for the needs of his new tribe.
Daphne is in a similar situation. At first, she tries to hold on to the almost ridiculous rules of a corseted society, but her practicality begins to take over. She believes in scientific method, and helps Mau find his answers, while looking for some of her own.
In one of the best scenes of the novel, Daphne argues with herself after killing a man.
‘What about the Hangman? Doesn’t he do murder, then?’
[No, because enough people say it isn’t. That’s what a courtroom is for. It’s where the law happens.]~
‘And that makes it right? Didn’t God say ‘Thou shalt not kill?’
[Yes. But after that it got complicated.]
She then insists that the people of the island put her on trial, to come to a group decision about whether it was in defense of the community or vigilantism. This is the point at which a group of individuals become a Nation. They sit down and create rules after thinking about why there should be rules.
When a plurality becomes singular, something is lost. Both Daphne and Mau must make personal sacrifices for the sake of others. Remember, though, that something is also gained. Answers are found in the dark, and boys become men, and the best impulses of humanity triumph.
At the end of the novel, an old man shares a new creation story, the creation of the Nation Mau helped create. ‘The greatest scientists in the world have taught here for generations, he thought as he made himself a cup of tea, and still our children ask us: Are there ghosts?’ This is Pratchett at his best. He gives a story the warmth of a heart that accepts the need for ghosts, but has the courage to stand out in the dark of chaos anyway. It is up to the reader to decide whether to accept his challenge to do the same. Annie J. Kelley, in Battle Creek Enquirer (Michigan)
Pratchett’s Nation should make would-be fiction writers weep. It’s not that Pratchett’s prose is wrought with high-falutin’ furbelows or doctorate-level sentence structure. In fact, his words are an almost-breathing demonstration of the opposite of ornamental language, how complexity and clarity are almost never equal and that in the right hands less is always more.
In Nation, which is being marketed to teen readers but could easily be shelved in the adult section, Pratchett tells the story of Mau, an island boy on the verge of becoming a man. A tidal wave kills all of the people he has ever known and deposits in their place a young British girl who is equally (but differently) adrift.
While this sketch of the plot seems hopelessly bleak, Pratchett’s nimbleness and whimsy carry the reader through the more soul-wrenching moments without every diluting their power. His undeniable voice never overpowers the characters in that winky way it did in his earlier Discworld novels. Here, the prose meshes with all of the elements of story without calling undue attention to itself.
Pratchett, in addition to providing an example of why children should be taught useful things, takes on ever-larger ideas without ever losing the nuance of plot and character under a blanket of heavy-handed didacticism. He noodles about with belief in gods in the face of tragedy. He riffs on the divide between science and faith. Most importantly he mulls over how you continue when life is at its bleakest. As Ataba, a priest and refugee who washes up on Mau’s island, says, ‘The rest of us listen for certainty, and there is nothing. Yet in our heads we know there must be . . . something, some reason, some pattern, some order, so we call upon the silent gods, because they are better than the darkness. That is it, boy. I have no answers for you.’
Frankly, in passages like the above, it’s difficult not to read what’s publicly known about Pratchett’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis into Nation’s margins. Yet reading with that nugget of knowledge feels like what the author wants you to do. In an addition to being a story about big questions and small struggles. Nation becomes an affirmation almost, an assurance that somehow, despite the odds, it will all be OK. Not necessarily pretty or straightforward or romantic, he assures, but OK.
These, however, are the thoughts you have after you’ve finished Nation. Once in the story you are too engaged to do more than turn pages so that you can discover a world and characters that can only be described as Pratchettian. There are unexpected details that delight, like tree-climbing octopi and vomiting birds and a foul-mouthed parrot. There is a lightness of spirit and language that carries you through – and that must belie the hard work that went into them. Pratchett makes it look easy to write this [thus?] engagingly and deeply, like a performer who is juggling four kittens, a crocodile and a Wellington boot while cogently outlining the finer points of Being and Nothingness, with the occasional aside about underpants, smiling from joy the entire time. Adrienne Martini, in Locus
The [Independent] 20 best books of the year
From celebrity chimps to the Crusades, birds’ brains to baby-boom bohemians, Boyd Tonkin and Katy Guest select some of the outstanding publications of 2008
Does Nation merely count as a children’s novel? As with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland or Gulliver’s Travels, delighted readers of whatever age will swiftly cease to care. Here, Pratchett forsakes his Discworld for a stand-alone fable of conquest, civilisation and enlightenment – with a bumper crop of gags on the way. In a slightly twisted universe that parallels Europe’s imperial past, shipwrecked Daphne meets Mau, the last survivor of his nation, on the island that his people used to inhabit before a tsunami. Mau must free himself from the iron grip of traditional belief; Daphne, of the shackles of race and class prejudice. Cue a wisely hilarious excursion through ideas of community, identity and belonging, all wrapped up in Pratchett’s sublime silliness. BT
And last, but never least, we have the latest novel by Terry Pratchett.
First things first: Nation is not a Discworld novel. There is no Ankh-Morpork, there are no wizards, there is no Watch. Nor is it, like the Johnny books, a novel set in the here-and-now. Is it still a Pratchett novel? Yes, of course.
I would go out on a limb and say it’s the least humorous of the Pratchett novels I’ve ever read. This doesn’t mean it was not laugh-out-loud funny in places, because it was certainly that. But it starts at a very dark point for Mau, the protagonist of the novel, and it doesn’t shy away from that point. Pratchett often covers the grim in his books, but he slides over it, leaving shadows but giving us the humor that might, one day, arise from the events.
He doesn’t do that here.
Mau is a boy who is about to become a young man of The Nation, which is what his tribe is called. The Nation exists on a small tropical Island, and all the males of the Nation live in the boys’ huts until they’re taken to the boy’s Island. There, they’re left entirely on their own, and they must make their way back to the tribe; when they do, they are considered men. It’s a moment of great joy for the whole tribe.
Mau has spent his night on the boys’ Island, and he is paddling his way home when he’s hit by a huge and inexplicable wave that almost kills him. There’s no almost about his village. The welcome and the comfort he expected before the wave is gone; he’s the last of his tribe. The gods – for Mau’s life has always been informed by the gods – are nowhere in sight.
On the Island as well, in a similar situation, is . . . Daphne. Well, technically, that’s not her name, but as she’s also the only survivor of the shipwrecked Sweet Judy, no one is likely to rat her out. She’s about the same age as Mau, she is also alone, and she is terrified.
The two meet, and between them, with their own half-understandings of the rules that governed the lives they used to know and lead, they try to build – or rebuild – home.
In the wake of any disaster, there will always be other survivors, and home grows, person by person. But how it grows, and what it means for Mau, a boy who is either furious at the betrayal of the gods, or certain they don’t exist, depending on the time of day, is pure Pratchett. The only god Mau is certain of is Locaha, who is death, and who is waiting. Mau balances his growing certainty that there are no gods and therefore no answers with the needs of the strangers who are only barely alive, and who are wrapped in grief and rage that is both like and unlike his own.
And what Mau builds, in the end, with the help of Daphne and the other stragglers, is a new world, and an old one; it’s a version of paradise, in its way, that’s entirely human, and to be yearned for and earned in an entirely human way.
I think this is – just possibly – the best book Pratchett has ever written.
Michelle West, ‘Musing on Books’, in Fantasy and Science Fiction
Like the work of Philip Pullman, Pratchett’s young-adult novel raises issues concerning religion and philosophy while telling a superb fantasy story. Here, 13-year-old Mau, the sole survivor on an island ravaged by a tsunami, helps restart a society with the help of shipwrecked daughter of a British governor and refugees who end up seeking shelter on the island. There are ghosts, cannibals and an inventive chef, all of whom give the novel the mix of humor and adventure, staples of Pratchett’s work.
The Guardian said that “Nation” stands alongside desert-island masterpieces such as “Robinson Crusoe,” “Treasure Island” and “Lord of the Flies,” and that it’s apt for a wide-ranging audience: “If you read it to your 10-year-olds, they will gasp and giggle. At the same time, you could read it to a conference of philosophy professors and they would learn something. ‘Nation’ has profound, subtle and original things to say about the interplay between tradition and knowledge, faith and questioning.”
The paper’s critic went on to call Pratchett, “like Mark Twain, or Jonathan Swift, not just a great writer but also an original thinker,” noting that “in some part of the multiverse there is probably a civilisation based on the thinking of Terry Pratchett–and what a civilised civilisation that will be.”
Pratchett’s eminently able to spin a yarn and at the same time, engage theology, philosophy and the meaning of life. And make us laugh. Nation, in new teen-friendly format, is one of his best. In a pseudo-Victorian world, a tsunami passes through the South Seas, leaving Mau, sole survivor of his Nation, stranded between boyhood and manhood. It leaves Daphne, 138th in the line for the British throne, washed up on Mau’s island. As the wave’s survivors straggle in, the two contrive ways for all to live, scavenging old traditions and confronting new, surprising thoughts about gods, nationhood, culture and science. Murderers, sharks and beer strong enough to curl your hair (if not burn it off!) — there’s lots of action here. There’s also wit, wisdom and literary flair, as Pratchett ranges from broad humour to serious thinking; from political satire to a compassionate portrayal of first love and adolescent growth. Outstanding.
Deirdre Baker teaches children’s literature at the University of Toronto, The Star (Toronto)
While I was in one of my grad discussion classes a few weeks ago I said that I consider Terry Pratchett to be one of the great philosophers of the last few decades*. I mostly base that on the Discworld series, but his new standalone book Nation provides yet more evidence to support that statement. Like Discworld and many of Pratchett’s other novels, Nation works on multiple levels; it is a young-adult coming of age story, an entertaining exploration of social identity, and a commentary on topics ranging from metaphysics to shark repulsion. But from whatever angle you choose to approach it, the bottom line is that it does indeed work.
Mau is just finishing the process of becoming a man–no, not like that, stop it–when his entire world is ripped away from him. Upon returning to his home he finds that his island Nation has been utterly destroyed by a tsunami. The only survivor he finds isn’t one of his family, friends, or the hundreds of other people from the Nation; it is an English noblewoman named Daphne, stranded when the same tsunami that crushed his village tossed her ship deep into the island’s jungle.
As they try to recover from the initial destruction of the wave, they also have to figure out how to deal with the aftermath. Daphne may have arrived with a shipwreck full of supplies that will keep them alive, but there are other concerns as well. The two of them don’t speak the same language. Daphne has to learn how to fend for herself after growing up in a gilded cage. Mau has to try to reassemble his Nation from the desperate refugees that trickle into the island one canoefull at a time over the following weeks. And all of this is on top of being teenagers trying to understand how to fit into societies that really only exist in their memories.
Even worse, not all of the survivors coming to the island are as benign as the refugees. The Raiders, ancestral enemies of Mau’s Nation, have been sighted. Daphne’s past also contains some shady characters that may be a threat. Even the arrival of Daphne’s father, who she believes will be desperately searching every spit of land in the Pelagic until he finds her, would at the very least upset the fragile order she and Mau have been trying to reestablish on the island. But exploring the history of the island itself may have bigger consequences for the budding Nation than any of these outside influences…
Speaking of outside influences, it was impossible for me to read Nation without constantly thinking about a pair of real-life events that are related to the story. The most obvious is the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami that took place while the book was being planned. Though Pratchett goes out of his way to let us know (via a brief author’s note) that the Pelagic is not the Pacific and that Nation takes place on an alternate Earth with a different history, the connection is really too strong to ignore. That being said, it is a connection that does not really add to or take away from the story; the real life tsunami just sat in the back of my mind and added context and a link back to modern reality in a story that takes place in a (somewhat modified) 19th century setting.
The other real-life event that was constantly intruding on my reading of Nation was the news of Pratchett developing an early-onset form of Alzheimer’s disease. (If–through some completely improbable twist of the Internet–Mr. Pratchett comes to read this, please feel free to stop with my apologies as I am yet another fan who is struggling to maintain that “I ain’t dead yet” attitude you’ve tried to encourage.)
Nation‘s tagline, repeated both on the cover and throughout the story, is “when much is taken, something is returned.” Every time I read that line I immediately flashed back to Pratchett’s illness. Don’t get me wrong; as somebody who has been through multiple degenerative and terminal illnesses in my immediate family, I know that it is really only a slowly unfolding tragedy for him, his wife Lyn, and the rest of his family. For the rest of us it is far, far less…yet, still, I will consider Pratchett to have been somebody great who was taken from us when his illness reaches its inevitable end. And maybe, in a temporal reversal, the books he’s already written are what will have been returned; but I will still mourn the Pratchett novels that only appear in Lucien’s library. So I have to say that this thought was strong in my mind as I read about Mau raging against his gods for taking away his world and I empathized with him as much because of it as much as because of any personal losses in my past.
That (long) prelude aside, I thoroughly enjoyed Nation. It is not as strong as the best Discworld books, but it would probably be in my top five and is better than Pratchett’s other recent novels. I am comparing it to Discworld not only because it is impossible to talk about Pratchett without bringing up that series but also because it shares many of the themes and ideas that Discworld explores. Indeed, the only thing that really keeps Nation from being a Discworld novel is a change in setting and an absence of the level of everyday absurdity that reigns on the Disc.
Nation is intended to be a young adult book, and it does read like one. With a few exceptions that are mostly (interesting) decoration, there are no intricate plot twists or deep explorations of character motivation. In this book, though, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Mau and Daphne are both written as empathetic characters who are dealing with tremendous loss with the same mix of uncertainty and a determination to keep living that you find in anybody who is dealing with tragedy. The supporting characters are one dimensional, but in a structural way that focuses the tale, not in a cartoonish way that detracts from the story. The simplifications are constructive, not reductionist.
In A Deepness in the Sky Vernor Vinge’s interstellar explorers, upon landing on a planet with ruins from a species they have never encountered before, don’t try to learn about the species by finding a museum or a library; instead, they try to find the equivalent of an elementary school, under the logic that since that is where the species tried to teach its own young it would be the best place for an outsider to learn their language. In many ways the YA age group provides a similar method of looking at a culture. If elementary school is about learning the basics of language, the teenage years are about learning the basics of society and the values that adults carry forward for the rest of their lives. Nation explores ideas of metaphysics, racism, social norms, family, and history in a very direct way that, yes, makes the book YA appropriate, but also serves as a fascinating study on those subjects for readers who are so enmeshed in culture that it is difficult to really look at where our ideas that make up that culture came from. As one quick example:
“He’s frightened of me, Mau thought. I haven’t hit him or even raised my hand. I’ve just tried to make him think differently, and now he’s scared. Of thinking. It’s magic.”
I’ve probably already written too much, but suffice it to say that Nation has all the elements you would expect in a novel from Terry Pratchett, including the most important: the feeling that you’ve just read a great story written by a master storyteller. I highly recommend Nation for any reader level. 9/10
*I expected a big argument to follow, since this was a group that had a pretty good background in the last couple hundred years of western philosophy; instead I got a lot of blank stares until one person broke the silence with “I don’t think anybody gets that reference.” I was sad, for several reasons.
Rarely does a reader come across a book that prompts them to think beyond its pages or to form questions regarding different aspects of their lives. Terry Pratchett’s Nation not only does just that, but it also offers a unique experience for every reader…
A tidal wave has just hit a group of island nations in the southern area of the world, wiping out everything that has lived there. Mau, a young boy of fourteen, was out to sea taking the final leg of his journey to manhood, a custom all boys perform. By a stroke of luck—or curse of the gods—Mau is the sole survivor of the island and is left alone to deal with its many issues.
On the other side of the island the Sweet Judy, a ship that crashed ashore during the tidal wave and was pushed through the forest of the island, is all but deserted. The whole crew has been killed during the accident except for a young girl named Daphne, who was sailing on the ship in hopes of reaching her father. With no way of communicating what has happened to the Sweet Judy, Daphne must wait for help to arrive.
As the only two people on the island, Daphne and Mau are drawn together to help each other survive. Although there is a huge culture and language barrier between the two of them, Daphne and Mau form a routine that helps in the building a small nation. During the coming days and weeks, more and more survivors of the other nations are drawn to the island. No matter who is coming to the island—men, women, children or the elderly—they all bring with them unique background experiences and cultural differences. Eventually they all come together and start to build a whole new island that is a mesh of all of their different backgrounds.
Along with building a nation, a portion of the book is also devoted to the questions of why something terrible can happen causing so much chaos & havoc, and what is required to survive when all you have is yourself and others that may be drastically different from you…
Nation, unlike Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels, actually has chapters, so it felt a little odd to be reading a Pratchett book that was sectioned off as such. Along with chapters, the major difference in Nation’s writing style is that it doesn’t contain the humor element that is usually found in Pratchett’s books. While Nation does possess the occasional joke or one-liner, the book’s topic is of a more serious nature, so oftentimes the book’s humor felt ill placed or forced. That’s not to say that Nation is strictly a downer book because there are many other elements that make up for its lack of humor, such as the adventure and a sense of accomplishment you feel reading about a civilization that is built from scratch.
Now the first element that comes across when reading Nation is the amount of creativity and imagination required for writing such a book. While it appears that Nation takes place on islands in the South Pacific, all of the places are completely fictional as are the customs that the characters observe. So from that point of view, it’s really amazing to think about the amount of thought, planning and depth that went into the book.
As far as characters, Nation possesses a large cast from Mau and Daphne to the stranded survivors of the other nations, but it doesn’t feel as though the characters were the focal point of the book. Instead, Nation focuses more on the rebuilding experience and such questions like why could such a disaster happen, and what do gods really require of people. As a result, character development got pushed to the side and it was hard for me to form any real bonds with any of the characters.
One major theme in the book is the belief in gods, like why people have religious customs and the purpose behind such customs. While every reader will react differently to this issue—some might be turned off by the whole questioning of gods, while others may welcome it—I thought the theme almost felt like it was being drilled into the reader, although it’s not really a problem or major ordeal in the book. I did find that the gods talking to Mau in his head was a little confusing though.
Besides the issue of the gods, Nation also dealt with the theme of death, such as the huge natural disaster that resulted in a tremendous loss of life. Though not as controversial as the subject of gods, death is still a weighty topic and was handled very nicely and thought provokingly throughout the book.
A major strength of the book that I found inspiring was having it written from the natives’ point of view. Since Nation takes place in a time when other more ‘civilized’ nations would come and take over lands that they viewed as ‘uncivilized’, or wild, and claim them as their own, it was a bold and refreshing move to see what the natives of a land felt and thought about another nation trying to take them over…
On the flipside, a weakness of Nation is the whole Young Adult categorization. While the language is that of a Young Adult book, the content, themes and questions the novel asks are perhaps deeper than a teen might understand because they haven’t yet had the life experience. In fact, I think Nation is the kind of book that could be dissected more by college students or in book group discussions because it possesses so many aspects worth thinking about.
Overall, I was surprised with Nation. I had read a couple of Pratchett’s Discworld novels and was unprepared by how serious in nature the book was. While it wasn’t something I would normally pick up, Nation turned out to be a unique read that illuminated many things I do and how others may act, in a whole different light.
Still, and some will disagree with me, I felt Nation was one of Pratchett’s weaker books. It might be the lack of humor which is something I’ve come to associate with the author. Or it could be because I had to work to keep reading the book, and between the lack of adventure and the serious subject matter, Nation had a hard time holding my interest. I really did enjoy seeing a whole nation built from scratch and experiencing how each culture had a small part in the building process and the way people had to adapt in order to survive. However, the thrill of reading the book wore off quickly for me and I had to keep trudging to finish Nation.
Coming full circle, Nation is a book that will offer a different experience to anyone who reads it. Some will love the book. Others will hate it. There will be those that have no strong opinion either way. And for some, it will cause them to ask questions or think about aspects of life that they wouldn’t normally be thinking about. Whatever the case may be, Nation is that rare book that will linger with the reader long after finishing…
So… the blog is a bit Pratchett-heavy lately. The simple explanation is that I have finally discovered the man’s genius and my mood demands his particular mix of hilarious humor, social satire, and seriously clever, thought-provoking themes. There you have it! At this point, I’d read Pratchett’s shopping list, but because it is summer and I have a lot of his novels here (and unread), I went for the one with the prettiest and summeriest cover.
First sentence: Imo set out one day to catch some fish, but there was no sea.
Finding himself alone on a desert island when everything and everyone he knows and loved has been washed away in a huge storm, Mau is the last surviving member of his nation. He’s also completely alone – or so he thinks until he finds the ghost girl. She has no toes, wears strange lacy trousers like the grandfather bird and gives him a stick which can make fire.
Daphne, sole survivor of the wreck of the Sweet Judy, almost immediately regrets trying to shoot the native boy. Thank goodness the powder was wet and the gun only produced a spark. She’s certain her father, distant cousin of the Royal family, will come and rescue her but it seems, for now, all she has for company is the boy and the foul-mouthed ship’s parrot.
As it happens, they are not alone for long. Other survivors start to arrive to take refuge on the island they all call the Nation and then raiders accompanied by murderous mutineers from the Sweet Judy. Together, Mau and Daphne discover some remarkable things – including how to milk a pig and why spitting in beer is a good thing – and start to forge a new Nation.
As can be expected from Terry Pratchett, the master story-teller, this new children’s novel is both witty and wise, encompassing themes of death and nationhood, while being extremely funny. Mau’s ancestors have something to teach us all. Mau just wishes they would shut up about it and let him get on with saving everyone’s lives!
When Terry Pratchett says in interviews that he gets better with every book, he is not lying. He seems to pour his heart and soul into his fiction, and while the writing has always been good, it became nothing short of remarkable in these last few books I’ve read. Whatever else you may think of Sir Terry and his sense of humor, nobody can dispute that he is a master storyteller who truly understands people and translates real humans onto the page.
This book starts with a tragedy. Mau is in the middle of his manhood ritual – getting safely back home from the Boy’s Island – when the wave strikes. It is the biggest wave he has ever seen and he only survives because he is in a canoe when it hits him. The Boy’s Island? Gone. Mau returns to his home to find his entire tribe – the Nation – gone. The last survivor of his people, he sends their dead bodies to the sea and grieves. But there is another human on the island. Daphne, whose true name is Ermintrude (but who’d want to be called that?), survived the wave aboard the Sweet Judy, a ship now stranded on the island, and mostly in pieces. Mau and this strange, white ghost girl have to try and build up a new Nation, and new lives for themselves.
The culture clash is expected but deftly handled. Neither Mau’s gods nor Daphne’s prim manners are portrayed in a way that makes them seem superior. They have each grown up in their own culture and now they have to find a way to understand each other and question what they’ve been taught all their lives. For Daphne, it may begin with not wearing 7 layers of clothing and actually showing her naked toes to strangers (gasp), for Mau – ever since the wave wiped out his family – it is the Big Question. Do the gods really exist? And if they do, how could they have let this happen?
As they both struggle to come to terms with their beliefs and their loss, more survivors appear on the island and a new, albeit small, Nation comes alive.
There is so much beauty on these pages and I am not sure where to begin. Daphne and Mau are wonderful protagonists. Mau’s self-doubt – for he is not a boy but never went through the proper manhood ritual, so he believes himself to have no soul – and Daphne’s keen scientific mind are not really all that different. The themes in this book may be obvious, but the characters are still at the center of the story, and I continued reading as much for Mau and Daphne as I did for the valuable life lessons. Pratchett doesn’t hit you over the head with a hammer of science. In this alternate Pacific Ocean nation (and it is alternate), neither Daphne nor the author find Mau’s culture and belief to be ridiculous or primitive. Yes, Daphne likes proof for the supposed miracles she sees – such as poison turning into beer – but she takes Mau’s gods seriously. This is a wonderful story that shows that different isn’t inferior – and to wrap this message in a wonderful, emotional, and funny story is the best way to deliver it.
The characters are vivid and real, they have gone through something terrible and deal with the aftermath in their own way. Mau thinks about giving himself to the darkness, Daphne tries to act the brave, proper lady. But inside – and the reader knows this – they are hurting and wondering about the future. As they slowly build their lives on the island, ideas start popping up. I loved the protagonists most of all because they enjoy thinking and through that learn more about the world and about themselves.
Someone had to eat the first oyster, you know.
Someone looked at a half shell full of snot and was brave.
Little asides like this may at first strike you as comic relief, a little fun to lighten the serious tone. But the thing that struck me over and over was that, despite being funny, there is so much truth in it as well. That is how people evolve, that is how inventions are made – by somebody doing something seemingly stupid or crazy, being brave, and discovering something new about the world. And in working together, amazing things can be achieved – such as the construction of a new Nation, even if it is different from the one before.
Take one strip of the vine lengthwise and yes, it needs the strength of two men to pull it apart. But weave five strands of it into a rope and a hundred men can’t break it. The more they pull, the more it binds together and the stronger it becomes. That is the Nation
Any book, for me, is carried by its characters and their growth. Both Mau and Daphne go through immense changes, not only because of the wave but out of sheer necessity. Daphne’s courage in the face of tragedy goes to show just how much she has grown. When this young girl with a passion for science performs an amputation, even Mau is surprised.
“[…] Those captives were treated very badly.”
“And you’ve been sawing the bad bits off them?”
“It’s called surgery, thank you so very much! It’s not hard if I can find someone to hold the instruction manual open at the right page.”
“No! No, I don’t think it’s wrong!” said Mau quickly. “It’s just that… it’s you doing it. I thought you hated the sight of blood.”
“That’s why I try to stop it. […]“
I have a fondness for pratical people and maybe that is why Tiffany Aching speaks to me so much. One thing I’ll definitely take away from this is that Terry Pratchett is made of Magic. I hope he will continue to write for many, many years and share his wisdom about humanity with us, in the shape of fantastic stories, peopled by lovable, wonderful characters.
Nation has also been adapted for the stage and while I’ll probably never get to see it, the pictures look beautiful. Of course the actors look much older than I picture the characters but I love how small details have been taken into account. On the right, Daphne – still rather proper in her dress – is wearing the grass skirt the Unknown Woman made for her. And Mau is trying out trousers in order to understand what makes trousermen so excited about them (turns out he’s quite fond of the pockets, if nothing much else).
This is marketed as one of Pratchett’s books for young people and while it definitely can be read by children and young adults, I believe it is even more suited to an adult readership. I remember, as a child, I read books for the pure pleasure of story. I didn’t care about messages, or the exploration of themes, or even world-building. I watched characters I liked do things that were interesting, and on that level, Nation succeeds. But it is the message that form the heart of this novel, it is the encouragement to think for yourself, and to go through the world with open eyes and an open mind.
THE GOOD: Wonderful characters who live through a sad but beautiful story. Brilliant exploration of serious themes with just a pinch of Pratchett’s trademark humor.
THE BAD: Takes a while to get into, some story elements (the Navy plotline) could have been left out.
BONUS: The filthy-mouthed parrot.
THE VERDICT: Highly recommended to Pratchett lovers or newcomers, to scientists and religious people, to those who have suffered through loss and pain, and those who are simply interested in a good story.
RATING: 9/10 – Beautiful. Close to perfection.
There’s certain authors whose names come up time and time again, yet I never seem to get a chance to read any of their work. Terry Pratchett happens to be one of those names. I’ve read some of his collaborative works, but never one of his solo novels. My local library had a copy of Nation, a young adult novel by Pratchett, so I figured I’d pick it up and give it a shot.
Alone on a desert island — everything and everyone he knows and loves has been washed away in a storm — Mau is the last surviving member of his nation. He’s completely alone — or so he thinks until he finds the ghost girl. She has no toes, wears strange lacy trousers like the grandfather bird, and gives him a stick that can make fire.
Daphne, sole survivor of the wreck of the Sweet Judy, almost immediately regrets trying to shoot the native boy. Thank goodness the powder was wet and the gun only produced a spark. She’s certain her father, distant cousin of the Royal family, will come and rescue her but it seems, for now, that all she has for company is the boy and the foul-mouthed ship’s parrot, until other survivors arrive to take refuge on the island. Together, Mau and Daphne discover some remarkable things (including how to milk a pig, and why spitting in beer is a good thing), and start to forge a new nation.
Encompassing themes of death and nationhood, Terry Pratchett’s new novel is, as can be expected, extremely funny, witty and wise. Mau’s ancestors have something to teach us all. Mau just wishes they would shut up about it and let him get on with saving everyone’s lives!
This book was everything I could have expected after reading Terry Pratchett’s work in Good Omens: in-depth characters, humor on a grand scale, and an exceedingly satirical view of society as a whole.
Pratchett does a wonderful job portraying the lives of the two main characters, Mau- a native islander who is interrupted by tragedy in his quest to become a man, and Daphne- a young English lady with few practical life skills who has the misfortune of becoming shipwrecked. Mau and Daphne rebuild a life on their island with a host of other lost souls while questioning the societal norms of their childhoods and trying to discover what it means to grow up. Watching the two main characters struggle to overcome the barriers of language, beliefs, and culture is both intriguing and heartwarming.
The writing style is humorous while also touching on deep topics like depression, racism, suicide, religious beliefs, and questioning tradition. The language is fun and colorful, pulling the reader onto the island right alongside the characters. Pratchett paints vivid imagery of island life, ranging from the day-to-day tasks of beer making and fishing, to the exploration of long past native histories and traditions. His tongue-in-cheek commentary on life back in jolly olde England also keeps readers on their toes. Although this story doesn’t end exactly the way the reader would expect, the conclusion in intelligent, heartfelt, and entirely satisfying.
I give Nation Five out of Five stars! Pratchett is a literary genius, creating yet again another work that can be enjoyed by people of all ages and backgrounds. Enjoy!
Background illustration © and by courtesy of Jonny Duddle