Nation by Terry Pratchett – Book Review

Title: Nation
Language: English
Author: Terry Pratchett
Genre: Action and Adventure (Children Literature)
Publisher: Random House Group (2009)
ISBN – 10: 0552557803
ISBN-13: 9780552557801
Binding: Paperback
Price: Rs. 751 (Buy from Flipkart for Rs.601)
Pages: 432

Summary: Terry Pratchett is most commonly known for his famous series of “Discworld” books, which have always been extremely popular and it’s this imaginative world which has led too much of his success. Nation is one of the few books set outside the “Discworld” series and is actually an alternate history of our world in the 1860s. The pace of events slows in the second half of the book, and there are pages of over-explanatory dialogue and arguments in which characters carefully spell out their positions.

Detailed Review: The story is set on an island in the South Sea and begins with a boy named Mau, who is about to become an adult through a traditional islander ritual, which involves being taken to a abandoned nearby island and left to find his own way back. However on his way back, Mau is caught in a massive tidal wave which wipes out the island where he lives and all the others around it, also wiping most of the inhabitants, including Mau’s family. The wave also washes up a survey ship, along with its only survivor, a young well off girl called Daphne. The two do not come together immediately at first as Mau thinks Daphne is a ghost and is terrified of her- but eventually he realises they might need each other. As other survivors slowly come to the island, Mau and Daphne struggle to hold on to their old cultures, and must learn to build a new nation.

The most enjoyable thing about “Nation” is how well it balances humour and darker aspects of the story. When Mau first meets Daphne, he is completely consumed with grief and shock, and thinks that she is either a figment of his imagination or a ghost. The first few chapters are dark and you genuinely feel for Mau. The first proper introduction of Daphne, however, lightens the tone considerably, as Mau then realises he is not alone. This leads to a comical scene where a terrified Daphne tries to intimidate Mau with a defective pistol, only for a clueless Mau to take it from her, mistaking her frantic flailing as a gesture for him to take it as a gift! These misunderstandings between the two become a big source of humour in the story, even when things seem their darkest. Observations of Daphne and other survivors, and Daphne’s often hysterical thought process (clearly having been drilled into her by her over-bearing Grandmother, who Daphne does not appear to be close with) shows the laughs are always nearby, usually accompanied by something serious or sad happening, yet the humour never feels out of place.

The idea of being stranded on an island and forced to start over is hardly a new idea, yet Pratchett has managed to do something completely different with the idea. It mixes reality with fantasy by drawing on real life issues as well as complete fantasy. The work of Charles Darwin is mentioned at one point, shortly before Mau wanders past a tree-climbing octopus. When fellow survivor gossip reaches Daphne that her and Mau are together, she compares it to being like “in a Jane Austen novel, but one with far less clothing”. Little moments like these make you smile and really involve you in the world that Pratchett created. Though very deep and moving, the story never stops being entertaining and you really end up caring about the characters. Oddly, the only downside I can think of for “Nation” is it’s ending, which is a little vague and probably won’t be what most people were hoping for, but it’s still a great ending and it makes sense that that’s how it ends.

Synopsis: When a giant wave destroys his entire Nation – his family and everyone he has ever known – Mau finds himself totally alone. Until he meets Daphne, daughter of a colonial Governor and the sole survivor from a shipwreck. They have no common language, no common culture – but together they discover some remarkable things – like how to milk a pig and why spitting in beer is a good idea – and must try and forge a new kind of Nation. Then other survivors arrive to take refuge on the island, and not all of them are friendly… In Nation Pratchett bring us a novel that is both witty and wise, encompassing themes of death and nationhood, while also being extremely funny.

In the end, “Nation” is great novel that any Terry Pratchett fan will want to read, and, even if you’re not a fan, you might end up enjoying it anyway. It appeals to a lot of different people and once you start, you’ll definitely want to see the end, which is what any good novel does.

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