"To summarize Nation is quite impossible" says Terry Pratchett, and I couldn't agree more. There's so much to say about it. It starts with an island in a pacific-like ocean being hit by a huge wave that wipes out its entire population, except for one, Mau. At the same time, the wave brings the Sweet Judy to the island, carrying a high-class Victorian girl, Daphne, and a swearing parrot.
The book really takes off for me when the two of them starts to know each other. There's the language barrier to overcome and the cultural differences which cause some pretty funny misunderstandings. But they are both ready to learn from each other because it's all they have left. That, and an incredible sense of duty that, as Pratchett points out, brings them together to save the Nation, but will also, ultimately, force them apart.
Mau is a wonderful protagonist, and also a great leader for the new community that starts gathering on the island. He feels like a crab without a shell, without a soul, because his manhood initiation never took place. He's tormented by questions that are hard to answer. What is the meaning of everything? Are gods watching us? And if so, why didn't they do anything to save us, or to warn us? The birds knew about the wave and flew. Why weren't human provided with the same warning system?
In a way, this is a book about the nature of questions and the importance of answers:
So that's what the god 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.
But then other kind of questions start to come. What if the wave never happened? The ghost girl, Daphne, would have never arrived. He probably wouldn't have grown so wise and brave. He became a leader because they needed him to be. And he probably would have never questioned the gods and find an answer in the cave of the grandfathers!
Although this book was more serious and complex than I expected, being Terry Pratchett's , it was full of truly hilarious moments. My favourite is the chapter called "A star is born", where Daphne has to help a baby to be born and the men must wait outside and try to guess what is happening inside the hut. The men waiting are so funny and tender and the whole scene made me laugh out loud!
Then there's the whole perception of the "trousermen" who are afraid of legs! So true.
I also loved the parrot, who could scare away the grandfather birds, and I loved the grandfather birds, with their grumpy and disapproving expressions, and of course I loved the grandfathers voices, even though I thought the grandmothers were much wiser than them :P
I'm not sure I'm satisfied with the ending. I wasn't when I finished it, because I like romances to be rewarded at the end, because it's fiction, and because I want so! But, alas, Terry Pratchett is right when he says that the ending is not happy, it's not sad, just appropriate.
I'd like to re-read it one day to fully appreciate the different layers on which the story is based, and to be again with some wonderful characters like Daphne, Mau, Mrs Gurgle, Milo and all the rest.
I just want to say one last thing that bugged me when I read this book. I'm familiar with the notion of parallel universes and always thought it made sense. But if it's true that there's no such thing as "does not happen" but only "happens somewhere else", well, then there should be an infinite amount of universes. If one single event can split into two possibilities and thus two universes, there would be a mind-boggling number of universes being created every minute!
I don't know if I can believe that, though it's fascinating and a great subject for novels.
I leave you with the Pratchett's interview that I quoted from, done for Amazon. I really liked listening to it!:
Guys Lit Wire
The Hidden Side of a Leaf
Adventures in Reading
please let me know if I missed yours.