Returning home from an end-of-boyhood ritual on an isolated island, young Mau encounters a giant wave. When he finally reaches his home, he discovers it's been devastated by the wave. He's the only survivor of his nation, which had existed on this mountainous island for centuries. Although alone, Mau isn't the only survivor of the wave. The surge dumped deep in the forest a ship, which carried safely as it turned out, a very important passenger. In this finest of Pratchett's tales for "young adults", he weaves into the story important concepts along with fine entertainment. The mix works well, in ways only Terry Pratchett can conceive. This book will outlast many other contemporary efforts that fail to incorporate the depths of thinking Pratchett can achieve.
How do you rebuild a "nation" from but one survivor? The wave that destroyed so many communities left a tithe of survivors from other islands. In small groups, they begin to accumulate on Mau's island, forcing him - at thirteen years - to become the new "chief". He has already coped with the job of burying his relatives and other members of his nation. Even that propitiating task doesn't seem to quell the demands of The Grandfathers who visit him in dreams and visions. They express unfulfilled needs which he cannot comprehend. One of the refugees Mau must deal with is a Ataba, a priest who had trained on Mau's island. Ataba knows about the gods - and the white god anchors - which are to be kept nearby and bring good luck to the people of the Nation. This idea eludes Mau who wants to know which god brought the Great Wave and why he should be thankful for it.
Another of the wave's spared tithes is "Daphne", the sole survivor of the shipwreck. She's an Unbaked One from a distant land, daughter of one of the "trousermen". Pale skin and pants were known only by rumour in Mau's Nation prior to the wave. "Daphne", who has listened to Prof Aggasize's lectures and shaken hands with Mr Darwin, is rather a special person. She's in line to ascend the throne - but only after the deaths of 139 people, including of course, her father. In the Nation, "Daphne" finds a new life - she delivers babies, amputates limbs, kills a man . . . not what she'd been "trained" to do by her Gran. Above all, she must learn about Mau, his Nation and The Grandfathers residing somewhere in Mau's mind. A considerable challenge for a girl of but thirteen.
There aren't sufficient words of praise for this book. Pratchett builds his characters with his practiced finesse, keeping the tensions of their interacting lives taut but flexible enough for negotiation. After all, these two children begin their lives together without a word of communication. More seriously, however, Pratchett has those "children" begin thinking in ways that even close adults fail to grasp. "Daphne's" confrontation with her father at the conclusion is rich with implications - even for today. Mau, beset with the responsibility of keeping the refugee community in order, ascends to the role of chief, making him the builder of a new Nation, almost by accident. Can such an endeavour actually succeed? In many ways this is one of the most subversive works of fiction for "young adults" available. It portrays not only a world that is other than the one we live in now, but offers a means to achieve it. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
on May 17, 2009
What, no Discworld? But hold on a second. Sir Terry Pratchett has created an alternate universe quite like yet unlike our own world. In Nation, a book he insisted his publishers allow him to write as it had been seething in his mind for many years, he has created literature. A feat he has always been fearful of being accused of. This story should not be just for tweens, teens or the elderly but can be read on so many levels that grown-ups can enjoy it too. While I normally read a Pratchett novel from cover to cover on the first read I found with this one I would read a few pages and stop as it does involve some thought on the readers part. Or not as the case may be. The conflict between the world of the native boy Mau and Daphne of the Europeans is one which will lighten the hearts of many. This book is a reader's gem. Whenever things seemed to be taking a serious turn, the wit, kind humour and satire of Sir Pratchett was there shining through. The only sad thing is Mr Pratchett's recent diagnosis of Alzheimers. I can only say I hope he has many more years of writing left and I thank him for the joy he has brought me these many years from reading his wonderful books
On one level this book is simply a marvel of good storytelling. Pratchett says, at the back of the book, that 'thinking' may result from reading his book. He's right, it does. On another level, anyone knowing what Pratchett is going through personally the book will read much more deeply. The profound insights that appear on nearly every page can only have been written by someone who has had his world destroyed and who is frantically trying to find foothold. An amazing gift from an amazing storyteller.
I admit that I hadn't read much Pratchett before buying this book, but now that I've finished reading Nation, I want to see more of what this man has done and can do. (Shame for now I have other more pressing books to get to.)
Nation was an enjoyable read from start to finish. It's a book that presents thinking in an intelligent and wonderful way and messes with the perception of meaning, right, and wrong. It's a culture clash seen from both ends, and by the end you can't help but see both sides as right, wrong, and foolish at the same time. It challenges faith, ignorance, history, culture, and a whole host of other issues in such pleasant ways that you could have spent the last 50 pages being preached at and you'd have enjoyed every word of it!
Now that takes skill!
The final chapter (or epilogue, depending on how you really want to look at it) was quite powerful to me, as it expressed how an entire culture can not only be remade, but made in the first place, by chance encounters, and that the smallest things have the biggest consequences.
I think that if more young people read books like this, they'd enjoy reading more in general.
on November 29, 2009
Mau is away from his small island when a giant wave destroys his village, leaving him alone - and unable to complete the ceremony that would have given him his man's soul. It takes all his strength just to carry on, with the voices of his ancestors haunting him.
Daphne finds herself the lone survivor when the ship she was traveling on crashes into Mau's island on the same wave. With little to guide her but her grandmother's training for high society, she isn't sure whether to approach Mau as a potential friend or foe.
As other survivors gather on the island, Mau and Daphne form a bond and work to create a society that's all their own. Mau begins to believe in himself despite his fear that he lacks a soul. Daphne realizes there are far more important things than propriety.
But when all they've gained is threatened by an outside enemy, will their makeshift community be able to hold steady?
NATION has everything you could ask for in a novel. Its dramatic scenes are both poignant and moving, with Pratchettt's customary humor keeping the proceedings from straying into melodrama. Both main characters are distinctive, and it's a pleasure watching them come into their own throughout the story. The villains are suitably creepy and brutal. Little details of the setting and cultures make it all feel so real.
Highly recommended to both teens and adults.
Reviewed by: Lynn Crow
on January 4, 2011
Wonderful! I began reading Terry Pratchett almost twenty years ago when I made the foolish decision to go on a tour of Europe with my friends and without any books. On the morning of the third day, I was desperately spinning the sole book display in the hotel bookshop of our London hotel, and was fortunate enough to come across Small Gods, which I read eleven times over the subsequent three weeks. Already owning two copies of Nation myself (one signed copy that I never read and one that I've read several times), I ordered a class set because our Humanities 9 curriculum requires us to go over nationalism, imperialism, and colonialism from 1500 - 1815. This book is a way to get students to realize that actual humans were involved in these processes, and to help them identify specific individuals, events and motivations during this time period. Terry Pratchett is frankly brilliant and I think I could develop a curriculum for every subject based solely on his books.
on November 1, 2009
I was less magnetized by the "great discovery" at the centre of this book, than by the tender but so-far-from-cliche relationship between the two major characters. Yes, the book asks, and explores, the question of nationhood and continuity in a culture. But just as compellingly, it also explores the transition from childhood to adulthood with Pratchett's usual combination of humour, thoughtfulness, and situations that create greatness by requiring greatness from their participants. It was a real treat to walk that journey with both Mau and Daphne.
Terry Pratchett's health may be deteriorating, but he shows no signs of running out of important things to say. There are some Pratchett books I have read but not kept. This one's a keeper, though.
on June 7, 2010
I haven't met a Terry Pratchett book that I didn't like. That said, some are better than others. This is among the best, right up there with Small Gods.
on June 15, 2011
A fantastic book to while a summer week with. A light, beautiful book with a heart tugging ending that is not sad at all.