October 1, 2009
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Harper Collins Publishing,. 2001,367 pp., $9.99 Terry Prachett

ISBN 0-14-240614-7

What is my purpose in life? If I had one word to describe Nation by: Terry Pratchett, I would say “Life”. Life and how we interpret it.

The book starts at the beginning: the beginning of the earth and all its creatures. Imo, who made all of them, is not satisfied. “I have been like a child playing in he sand,” p. 1, he says. But before he can destroy the Earth his brother, Locaha persuades him to let him keep the Earth and when the people of it are dead, he will send them up to Imo in the perfect world.
In the 1870s, the Nation, one of thousand of islands in the Great Southern Pelagic Ocean, is completely isolated from the rest of the world. It is a place where the Europeans or (as they are called in the islands around the Nation) “trousermen”, are only a myth. It is a place where trading with other islands and defending themselves from the Raiders, a group of cannibalistic pirates who roam from island to island, pillaging and feasting, is normal life. One of the main characters in the story is Daphne (a “trouserman”) who was in the Great Southern Pelagic Ocean on the boat, named Sweet Judy, traveling to Port Mercia to stay with her father. Who is her father? He is a very wealthy and powerful Englishman who, at the beginning of the book, has to escape from the Russian Influenza. The Russian Influenza were a rebellious group who had just killed the royal family.

The other main character in Nation is Mau. For Mau, it is time for the biggest adventure of his life. After growing up on the prosperous island of the Nation, which is full of traditions and ceremonies he has finally reached the time in his life where he must travel to the Boys' Island and get back to the Nation by building a canoe and paddling home. However, on his way home something goes wrong, something big. That was when the wave struck. A huge tsunami rushed through the Great Southern Pelagic Ocean destroying whole islands and laying waste to settlements. Mau survives only to return to find that the Nation, his home, is deserted. Everybody is dead and Mau is left without anything he had ever cared for. As Mau is searching his island he finds something odd in the jungle. A huge boat is left with only one survivor, a girl around Mau's age named Daphne. They are two people from completely different backgrounds, and they manage to find out what they have in common to try and rebuild the great nation, along with rebuilding their lives. Until they find something on the island nobody has before, something that questions the very origins of man and how the civilized world came to be.

I loved Nation by Terry Pratchett. It is not only a good read, but also great literature.
Pratchett is a very skillful writer, able to get to his point in remarkably few words, while still leaving plenty of room for the reader's imagination. In particular, I was impressed by how the book is written like true life. Not every moment is filled with battles and escapes, but is told with daily detail. It focused more on survival, what we have to do to stay alive-- even if it means climbing through the muck just to feed a baby or chewing somebody else's food because they are too sick to do it themselves. Another reason I liked the book was because it's funny, yet not through jokes or puns. Instead most of the comedy comes from the situation and how characters try to get along even though they have barely anything in common. Or how they were left in this horrible situation because of the tsunami with nothing of their past lives left, and as a result they each try to create their version of the perfect society. The comedy aspect of the book was not, however, its most powerful trait. While Nation has its funny moments, it is not a very funny book as a whole. And even those moments that are comedic are nothing to laugh out loud about so much as smile wryly. Another trait that drew me to the book is its ability to say something plainly yet in language that has a double meaning. Even though Nation is an easy read, it is incredibly deep, facing very old questions like “What is the meaning of life?” and “What is my role?” It was addictive and I had trouble putting it down when the plot thickened.
What I thought was extraordinary about Nation are the characters. They are amazingly complex and grow throughout the story. They take on roles they never would have considered before. In particular, the reader can see a very gradual transition between the two main characters, Daphne and Mau, from being children to coming of age and making their stake in the world. Mau, is the character who everybody looks to in times of hardship, like a father. Yet to him, he is just a boy who needs to do work. While Daphne is more of the motherly character, she would fetch you a drink if you cannot go, and she would run up the mountain and back if it meant so much to you. Both Mau and Daphne are people who have a greater sense of “for the big picture”. They don't care about what happens to them, so long as everything is running smoothly. Also, the book's characters go farther than just the good guy and the bad guy. They reflect how we are all people, with different sets of priorities. For example, at the beginning of the book Mau hates a priest because Mau does not believe in the gods, but later in the book they have learned to settle their differences and to focus on what they share because it is helping nobody when they fight. It shows that Mau is not good and the priest is not evil, but more that they are two different people with different minds.
While all these are strengths of Nation, it is not a flawless book. At times it can get very slow. And the ending (although I refuse to give away the plot) is weak. Also, the book starts out being very factual and precise, but by the end it is plainly strange and becomes very whimsical, losing the flow and welcomed simplicity that it had at the start.
Although Nation is not, or may never, be as popular as Harry Potter or Twilight, I believe that it is a better piece of writing. And I would not be happy if there were sequels to Nation because I think it would drag the story down to try and expand on what was already written. But I would be very happy to see Nation recognized by more readers and I would be even happier if people realized that it is a much better book than many you would find in the kids section of the library. It is one of the most interesting books I have read. Nation makes you think, and that, I think, is underappreciated.

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