By J. Christe
What happens when cultures collide? Sir Terry Pratchett explores this in his often-hilarious book, Nation, released in the U.S. in 2009. This coming-of-age story takes place on a tropical island in an alternate universe on an earth like ours in the 1860s. Pratchett, known for his Discworld series, lures the reader in with well-developed characters and a masterfully crafted world.
Mau returns from a rite of passage on a neighboring island, anxious for his transition into manhood, but a tsunami has swept his island nation away. Soon, he finds Daphne, a shipwreck survivor. Naturally, she is the daughter of the 137th heir to the throne of England and expects a timely rescue. Until then, she must work with Mau to survive.
Mau and Daphne struggle to build a new society with other survivors who eventually wash up on their shore. Through it all, Mau is steadfast, even as the voices of his ancestor’s haunt him. Pratchett weaves humor and heart through the serious themes as the characters struggle through language and cultural barriers. Along the way, they milk a pig, learn about breastfeeding, and chew meat for an elderly woman.
Nation is full of action, a smidge of magic and magical thinking, and has a few fantastical creatures like tree climbing octopi and death himself. It is Terry Pratchett after all. Even in this fanciful environment, which isn’t that different from our own, if you really think about it, the characters carry the story. They explore what it means to be an individual in a world full of customs and traditions, often at odds with each other. Together, they discover the need for science and religion, and what it means to shape one’s own system of belief instead of taking everything at face value. And even in this dystopian landscape as they struggle to build something new, haunted by a nation that no longer exists, they challenge the traditional role of gender. As the story comes to an end, Mau and Daphne make a shocking discovery on the island that changes their understanding of the world.
You can find Nation at major booksellers.