Nation is an exceptionally good book, rewarding to read; it is aimed at young people, and I think that it would appeal strongly to the best in fourteen-year-olds everywhere; however, even though I haven't been fourteen for many years, I enjoyed it very much and recommend it for all ages.
It has many of the characteristics of Terry Pratchett's work, but it does not fit easily into any category. His humor is there, as is his relish in deflating the balloons that make up the given wisdom of human culture; the allusions that make every book he writes a delight, a puzzle, and an unending source of new discovery at each re-reading are there; none of it is present to the degree that any of it would be in a Discworld book.
A continuing idea running through his work is that of the alternate universes created at each decision point. One picks up a fork; alternatively, one may not have picked up a fork, and by not doing so may have created a different reality, the fork-not-picked-up universe. Nation takes place on an earth where a good many different utensils have been picked up at different times from what we know, but it is still recognizable as a nineteenth century when Britannia ruled the waves.
Although it is an entertaining book, it is not primarily a funny one. The themes it deals with are overwhelming--loss of the entire cultural framework that makes life in society meaningful, death of all that is known, the futility of traditional coping mechanisms in the face of such loss, the need to build a new life from within when all that has been known before was an old life imposed from without. The young hero has lost everything--even the coming-of-age ritual he was to go through the day of the tragedy. The repeated theme of the book is "When much is taken, something is returned." The reality is that the something returned is the result of work and determination, not a free gift; it's easy to give up, difficult to take what little you are given and make what you can of it. The story of the book is the tale of self-discovery after the boundaries have been wiped out, and of the attempt to build a new foundation for a society based on truth. Even through all the humor, there is also an ever-present sadness and grief for what was lost that wrenches the heart. Above all, it is a book to make one think.
I do not know of any other living author who is as cherished by his habitual readers as Terry Pratchett is, as both a writer and a person; nor can I think of any other who so richly deserves the cherishing.
on July 21, 2008
Just one important point before I start: this review contains no spoilers; Pratchett fans can read it with impunity.
'Nation' is one of Terry Pratchett's Young Adult books. It isn't set on Discworld, and the characters are new. It's set on our Round World, in Victorian days, at the height of the British Empire.
Well, to be accurate, it's set in an alternative world, in a different leg of the Trousers of Time, where, among other things, the Royal Family has met with a series of calamities, and it is vitally important that the Heir to the Throne be found (some small print in the ratified version of the Magna Carta, apparently).
The two main characters are teenagers - both, for various reasons, without a Nation, and both representing all that is best in their respective cultures. Mau, the boy, is the only survivor after his island is devastated by a tsunami. Ermintrude, the girl, is shipwrecked on his island.
No. It isn't The Blue Lagoon. That's all the plot that I'm willing to divulge.
Like all of Pratchett's work, this book can be interpreted at many levels. The younger folk will enjoy the yarn, which is brilliantly crafted, as always. They might even identify with the characters. Both show that curious mixture of wisdom, intelligence and basic Humanity of all of Pratchett's younger characters. There are many moments of tension, resolved at the narratively appropriate minute, plus an ending which brought tears to the Reviewer's eye.
Pratchett's sense of humour is never absent. A stunningly beautiful scene where all the multi-colored birds in a tropical island take wing at once, is brought to earth when he mentions the problems that occur when standing underneath a large, nervous, flock of birds.
And for us older readers? Many layers of allusion, discussion of deep questions about Belief, Monarchy, the Responsibility of Command, Gods, tree-climbing octopi, Reality, and the Lonesome Palm. I will freely confess that I love Pratchett's work, including his Young Adult books. Given that I'm older than Mr Pratchett himself, I can only conclude that I'm a young adult, for large values of 'Young'.
This is another marvellous book. Long may he continue to produce them.
If you've never tried his work - try this one; it comes with no baggage.
Pratchett's first non-discworld novel since 1996 (Johnny and the Bomb) is a real winner for kids, adults, fans, non-fans...all human-types. (Parrots will like this too; however some pigs may be scandalized).
It's set in a world similar to ours but with a different history. England is beset by plague & the heir to the throne who was quite a ways down the list before some dying occurred in the royal family needs to be fetched from his position as Governor of Port Mercia. His daughter Ermintrude who was in route to be with him will need to be picked up on the way...
Meanwhile, on an island so small as to not be on maps--well maps made by people who think being on a map makes you civilized--Mau is leaving his boyhood behind. He's about to complete the ritual that will lead him to being considered a man...Then something happens--a wave washes away everything and everyone Mau knew. But it deposits Ermintrude's ship in a tree.
Anyone who has ever had the pleasure of reading a Pratchett novel knows that summarizing them just doesn't do them justice, so I'm stopping there. Suffice to say that this is an amazing book. It's fun to read. The characters are funny, but never made fun of. Pratchett's trademark dry, sly British humor is well in evidence. It takes on several weighty issues (death, imperialism, religion, grief) without ever being preachy or patronizing. It's the story of a boy who didn't know there were questions (especially about the whole gods thing) and a girl who was taught questions were improper (especially questions about propriety)...how they meet and share their questions and answer a few of them. That with guns and sharks and milking of pigs in.
Just like his Discworld books starring Tiffany Aching, this is a gift to young audiences and people who read like them.
Nation is a novel that I found myself calling wonderful from the very beginning and immediately knowing it would be a favorite. It's one I'd recommend to nearly anyone.
This alternate history takes place in a time when the redcoats were plopping down flags on islands without asking the permission of the natives. Most authors fail to give such natives equal or superior intellectual status with their European contemporaries. Instead, such people are painted as savages. Pratchett seeks here to blur the normal lines between civilized and savage and redefine these words.
The story begins when "savage" Mau returns to his particular island for his ceremony of manhood only to find that the entire Nation has been swept away in a tidal wave. Upon his return, he finds Daphne, a "civilized" European teenage girl, who has been washed on shore in the remains of her ship. Out of fear, Daphne immediately and savagely tries to shoot the native islander. They eventually have to look past their pre-conceived ideas of each other as different varieties of savages to make the Nation live again. Soon other survivors from around the area begin to show up to take refuge there. Mau finds himself stealing milk from a wild hog and Daphne finds herself delivering babies and making beer. After Mau retrieves a fourth never-before-seen god anchor from the sea, Daphne urges him to go one step further and roll away a very ancient stone from the mouth of a cave to uncover other secrets of his forefathers. This is when a most amazing and unexpected discovery surfaces that "turns the world upside down" and puts into question history as we know it.
Benjamin Franklin said in his essay "Remarks Concerning the Savages of North America" that "if we could examine the manners of different nations with Impartiality, we should find no People so rude, as to be without any Rules of Politeness; nor any so polite, as not to have some remains of Rudeness." In Nation, Pratchett seeks to define the difference between the civilized and the savage in a different way than we normally do. Is one country civilized just because they were luckier in their inventions or the natural resources available to them? Is a cannibal more savage than a man who kills people and other living beings just for the fun of it? Could only Europeans come to logical conclusions about life and the nature of the universe?
If a good book is a gift, then Nation is a gem.
Imagine, if you will, that you are a young boy, returning to your island home, Nation, after your rite of passage, when you are caught in a tidal wave that destroys everything you own, everyone you ever loved, and almost everything you are.
Imagine, if you will, that you are a few years shy of becoming a young Lady and that your father is in the line of succession for the throne (after, of course, the deaths of the other 100+ in line). You have been taught Propriety and Manners - capitalized, of course - and are on board a ship that is caught in the above mentioned tidal wave. You are dumped, with very little fanfare, on the Nation. You are, of course, the ship's lone human survivor.
This is not Pippi Longstocking. This is not Gilligan's Island. This is not Blue Lagoon, nor is it Lord of the Flies.
Who's in charge? Beyond the problems with communication and with the incoming straggling survivors, huge differences in customs and traditions are also hitches in what should be peaceful island life.
While Nation is geared towards young adults, Terry Pratchett's subtle - and not always subtle - humor and fabulous tale-weaving make Nation appropriate for Pratchett fans of all ages. It's also an amazing book for any reader who likes a bit of adventure and/or some fictional (or is it?) supernatural and scientific convictions.
Despite publicized health problems, Terry Pratchett, I assure you, shows NO sign of slipping!
One of the things I liked most about Nation was how it took a serious story full of disaster, death, pain, fear, challenges, the unknown, disappointment - and added humor, hope, a little bit of reason and enlightenment, growth, and triumph.
Mau is on his way to his home island to claim the glory and honor of completing a challenge that would earn him manhood. He feels he is vulnerable now - not a boy any longer but not yet a man, either, so he must hurry to his manhood... and then the Wave comes. The Wave changes everything. Through the course of the book, Mau meets Death more than once and fights him every time - the results are admirable and satisfying - it was almost as though Mau taught Death a lesson just as much as Death taught Mau a few things.
The story is about new beginnings, while remembering, cherishing and learning from the past. The Nation made me think of America, too, and how different people from different islands came together, and learned to share their traditions and help one another and get along, despite rigid superstition and different experiences. The birthing rituals, the beer-making, the "now you're a man" traditions, the gods and god anchors - it's all intriguing to read about (and I loved the "toe-less creature" - Pratchett does a nice job of describing things we take for granted from the perspective of one who has not experienced such things).
Finally, the book encourages people, including its characters, to think. "I want to know why everything. I don't know the answers, but a few days ago, I didn't know there were questions," Mau says. Earlier in the book, Mau's friend Nawi, who others laugh at, tells Mau that "Not many people think, REALLY think. They just think they do." I love the way Mau and Daphne (aka Erminitrude) learn to THINK - it's fascinating and inspiring what they come up with when there's much at stake.
I didn't completely like the ending, though it did fit the story and there's nothing WRONG with it; I was a bit like the children who were listening to the end of the story, that's all.
on July 28, 2008
And while Pratchett has written several YA Discworld books (the Tiffany Aching series and a few others), he has also branched out into new stories with universes of their own.
Mau is leaving the Boys' Island. He has left his child soul behind and upon his triumphant return to the Nation, his small island home, he will receive his man soul.
Daphne (her real name Ermintrude but it's not one she'll admit to it if she has to) is journeying on the Sweet Judy to unite with her father, her grandmother's words, "Always remember, that it only needs one hundred and thirty-eight people to die and your father will be King! And that means that, one day, you might be Queen!" echoing in her mind.
In a single night, Daphne and Mau's worlds are utterly shattered. With only crude pictograms as a common language, these two children must survive on a storm swept island with an ancient mystery buried at its heart.
Pratchett's characteristic humor (and footnotes "of an educational nature"), while present, has stepped to one side to make room for an additional thoughtfulness about what it means to come of age and what makes up both a person and a society.
An avid Pratchett fan myself, I was heartbroken when I was interrupted with only 10 pages left to read. Pratchett has once again created a compelling, driving story that entertains, educates and pokes fun at anything and everything in its path.
on July 22, 2008
It would be easy to say that Terry Pratchett's new novel is about loss, forgetfulness, survival and hope, and to relate its themes to its author's personal tragedies, except that it would then sound solemn and preachy, which it is not. Any profundity emerges unforcedly from a brisk tale of two youngsters stranded together in the wake of multiple global and personal catastrophes. Each is a lone survivor: Mau (a boy who is caught in between souls) of a tsunami that wiped out his tiny Polynesian clan (the "Nation" of the title), Ermintrude (an upper class Victorian girl who loathes her given name) of a mutiny and shipwreck. ("Polynesian" and "Victorian" are approximations. The world of the story is not precisely our own.)
To keep their lives going and cope with various helpful and unhelpful personages who show up at their island refuge, this naive pair must inter alia learn each other's languages, milk pigs, practice death, argue with silent gods and noisy ghosts, rediscover the secret of the Nation's "god anchors", repel a flotilla of cannibals, and make peace with the British Empire. The odds and gods are overwhelmingly against them, but ingenuity, perseverance and an odd kind of nonbelieving faith bring them through to a suitable, if not conventionally satisfying, ending.
While not set in Discworld (for plot reasons that are obvious in retrospect), Nation fits the Pratchett template: a rather farcical background, a quip-infused text, and a narrative as carefully crafted as in any serious novel. Humor is never an excuse for sloppy writing. There may, sadly, be few more books from the prolific Pratchett pen. This one, happily, maintains the very high standards of its predecessors.
"People got to keep pushing on
No matter how many dreams slip away
Yah mo be there"
In the beginning there was Imo
Imo made the world
And the people
And out of night, he made
Locaha, the god of death
Once there was the Nation
Important to its people
A little island
Among many on a chain
The seat of gods
Then there were trousermen
In their big ships
With guns and flags
Claiming all the world
In the name of the King
Then came the wave
And it was colossal
And it swept over the Nation
And three worlds collided
This is the story of Mau, a boy lost in the transition to manhood when the wave hits his island home. This is also the story of Ermintrude (call me Daphne), a girl who befriends Mau after she is cast ashore with the ship "Sweet Judy". Together they face the future, and despite their different cultures and beliefs, they form a bond of trust and friendship.
This is not your usual Pratchett, and there are no elephants, turtles or discs, but there are gods and monsters, and dolphins, and above all, there is beer. Strong and well-developed characters make the story interesting, along with little teasers of Pratchett's trademark humor, even given the somber subject matter. If anything, some parts tend to ramble on a bit, but overall it's deceptively deep reading material, with lots of action and adventure.
This is intended to be a book for young adults, but there is enough food for thought to satisfy even a hungry adult. I can see it being placed on reading lists along with classics such as "The Lord of the Flies", "The Swiss family Robinson", "Treasure Island" and "Robinson Crusoe", as opposed to coming of age survival movies like "The Blue Lagoon". Naturally, it would make an excellent movie given the right director.
"One nation and we're on the move
Nothin' can stop us now"
(George Clinton & the Funkadelics)
Rated: 4.5 stars
Amanda Richards, July 28, 2008
on September 8, 2009
Nation is a well written and thought provoking book, but it's one big failing for me at least was that it's quite hard to engage with the lead characters. Certainly you can feel for them, but there's a certain amount of preach going on that makes them somehow feel like two-dimensional cut-outs employed in the purpose of allegory only with little real depth of their own.
You can see that the topics rae ones that Pratchett feels strongly about and wants you to feel strongly about too (as you should as they're good things to consider), but maybe it's a little overbearing here, I almost felt like I was reading one half of an internal argument, like it wanted a riposte that was never forthcoming, or maybe there's just a hint of some anger here, or maybe I'm just imagining this there.
Pratchett is of course as ever fluid in his prose and makes what he does seem almost too easy, but he's certainly being more earnest here (OK OK I said the same thing three times now). It's well worth the read but think of this is fitting in more with the style of the Tiffany Aching trilogy rather than the Sam Vimes or other Discworld Novels. This is totally in keeping though as Pratchett is one of those authors who just when you're getting comfortable suddenly ups and changes his style and this makes him tremendously exciting to follow. I just hope that something can be done for his frustratingly untimely EOA so we can see many more from him.
I've rated this three out of 5, not in relation to other authors, but purely in relation to Pratchett in general, compared to others it goes without saying that this would be within the 4-5 range.