Somehow I never heard about this book until I read Sir Pratchett’s non-fiction where he references it. I don’t know how I could have missed this awesome story, but I’m glad I picked it up to read on vacation. In normal Pratchett fashion, it’s hilarious, provocative, and deep. In happenstance, it was also interesting to read about a small island nation that gets hit with a hurricane while vacationing in a small island nation that narrowly missed a hurricane.
“Nation” encompasses two interlocking stories, one of Mau, a native islander who loses his entire nation to a cataclysmic hurricane while he’s away on another island performing a coming-of-age ritual, and of Ermitrdue/Daphne, a member of Britain’s marginal aristocracy whose ship is capsized on Mau’s island after the storm. Intermingled in this plot is a few British imperials looking for Ermitrude’s father out in the islands somewhere to crown him king.
At the heart of this story, Pratchett is tackling the imperialist nature of the white ruling class over anyone who doesn’t look or think like them. The story branches back and forth between Mau and Daphne’s point of view (after being shipwrecked, Ermitrude realizes how much she hates her name and changes it to something she likes). Pratchett’s structural set up is excellent in that we are first introduced to Mau and learn about his ‘Nation’ through his experiences before the great wave. By understanding Mau’s interactions with his village and their customs, not only does Pratchett totally pull at our heartstrings when Mau returns to find his whole world has been washed away, but we learn about how ‘great’ this nation is on its own merit.
Daphne’s character is one of a fish out of water back in her English mansion, and even though she has a rude awakening in being shipwrecked onto an island where she and Mau are the only two people and don’t even speak the same language, Daphne not only adapts to her new surroundings with enthusiasm, but rails against the impending imperial take-over later on in the story. Both characters learn from each other, take what they can from each other’s cultures and backgrounds, and use it to build a better nation as refugees start flowing in from the hurrican’es destruction.
It’s a coming of age story, and a tale of what can happen when we listen and learn from other cultures instead of trying to impose a ‘1st world’ structure on them.
4 stars for being Terry Pratchett!