Nation is a young adult novel by Terry Pratchett. Is is not part of his Discworld series. In fact, it’s not even a comedy.
In an alternative past, the Russian Flu is wiping out large populations, including the 138 people in line to be king ahead of Daphne’s father. Around the same time, a “big wave” destroys all the island nations in the ocean. Mau, a boy who believes he has no soul because he had been transitioning between boy and man (like a hermit crab between shells) when the wave destroyed his nation, finds himself alone on his island. But soon Daphne’s boat crashes here, and after a shaky start, she and Mau become friends and learn from each other. She learns how to make beer and do rudimentary medical procedures while he learns that although his island is the biggest he’s ever seen, it’s hardly a smudge on the map of the world.
Mau and Daphne aren’t alone for long as refugees from the other islands start to show up. Mau is angry at the gods for destroying his people and putting him in charge of a broken mismatch of people. He begins asking questions, for the first time wondering if the gods are real at all. Daphne, who’d grown up in a Western religion begins to ask similar questions. Their journey takes them to an old cave, in which are the secrets of Mau’s ancestors and a secret that unlocks the mystery of the whole world. Later on, the island is visited by mutineers, cannibals, and worst of all, Daphne’s etiquette-obsessed grandmother whom Daphne suspects killed the 138 people in line to the thrown to see her son wear the crown.
I won’t disagree with the reviewers who say that this may be Pratchett’s best book. The way in which he creates and uses characters is typical Pratchett. Also, the personification of Death–not that Death is the same in this book. It’s a god named Locaha who Mau manages to dodge twice. One thing that really resonates with me is when Pratchett describes how a thread connected Mau to how his future was supposed to go. Sometimes people have two threads, seeing themselves in one future and another. For Mau, when the wave destroyed his village, he lost the thread. He couldn’t imagine what was in store for him.
“He was a good man. He deserved better gods.”
In the author note, Pratchett warns that this is a book that should make you think. I wouldn’t be surprised if people felt threatened by this book, but that’s the way people are. Pratchett was a humanist, but he doesn’t preach atheism here. While Mau is very angry and defies his gods, Pratchett is not his characters. He wants people to ask questions, but he’s not telling you what to believe. In fact, in the end, belief is looked upon as a good thing, though belief in what doesn’t seem to be so important as long as people believe in something.
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