That’s what the gods are! An answer that will do! Because there’s food to be caught and babies to be born and life to be lived and so there is no time for big, complicated, and worrying answers! Please give us a simple answer, so that we don’t have to think, because if we think, we might find answers that don’t fit the way we want the world to be.
Rarely does a book come along that is both light and intensely challenging – Terry Pratchett’s Nation is one of these kinds books.
The story is as follows: Mau is a boy from Nation, undergoing a rite of passage on an island by himsel when a tsunami hits and wipes away everything and everyone he knows and loves. English girl Daphne gets shipwrecked on the same shore. Together, but separated by language, culture and religion, they have have to build a new Nation and survive. Why would the Gods allow this to happen? What is the meaning of this suffering?
There’s a reason Pratchett writes “Thinking. This book contains some. Whether you try it at home is up to you.” This book is so highly philosophical and painful, as two young people survive and are faced by tragedy. Mau has to bury everyone he knows, and lead the survivors in the rebuilding of Nation. But what is Nation? When everyone who lived the culture but one has died, can such a thing as “Nation” still exist? Also, is there a God(s)?
Yet even though the topics this book handles are very sophisticated and incredibly heavy, it does have typical Pratchett humour throughout. He makes fun of religion, the idea of Empire, the English, and succession. That said, he takes Mau, his musings and suffering, and his world very seriously. Because of this, the comic relief comes in the form of Daphne, or rather, her education and “good breeding”.
“You are very clever,” said the old man shyly. “I would like to eat your brains, one day.”
For some reason the books of etiquette that Daphne’s grandmother had forced on her didn’t quite deal with this. Of course, silly people would say to babies, “You’re so sweet I could gobble you all up!” but that sort of nonsense seemed less funny when it was said by a man in war paint who owned more than one skull. Daphne, cursed with good manners, settled for “It’s very kind of you to say so.”
The writing is witty and poetic, like most Pratchett novels, but unlike most of his other work the tone of this one is heavily philosophical and serious. You feel for Mau, and as you enter his mind you are forced to face the same questions and issues. Can you believe in the Gods when they wiped out everything you knew and loved? Is it possible to rage against them if you do not believe?
The chemistry between the characters is wonderful though, and it is not all misery and suffering. Overall, I highly recommend this book. It will make you laugh, it will make you cry, it will warm your heart as you ponder the nature of life and the purpose of death.
Terry Pratchett, if I could I would quote the following back to you:
No more words. We know them all, all the words that should not be said. But you have made my world more perfect.
Although you never had a chance to know, you mean a lot to me. Thank you.