Terry Pratchett is my favorite author. He writes novels, and only with fiction can you present people who are so real. Most of his books are in the fantasy section of book stores, but the characters in his books, whether they are werewolves, witches, trolls, or whatever, are the sort of people you deal with on an every day basis.
Most of Pratchett’s books have taken place on Disc World, a place where magic is a regular part of life. Some time ago, Mr. Pratchett let it be known that he has been diagnosed with a form of Alzheimer’s Disease. His fans felt badly for Pratchett and his family, but we also felt badly for ourselves. His wonderful fiction has become a part of our lives. Pratchett pointed out that he wasn’t dead, and still felt quite capable of writing for a while. However, he put off the next Disc World novel he was considering, because he’s had this other book in mind for some time, and decided now was the time to write it.
“Nation” is set in what appears to be the South Pacific, after a massive tidal wave has destroyed most of the people living on those tiny islands. It has also beached an English ship, with one survivor. The story is about choosing life, and asking hard questions (such as “Why did I survive?” and “What did we do to make the gods angry?”), and doing what needs to be done. Pratchett excels at presenting characters who are ordinary — they get afraid, they worry about doing the right thing, etc. — but who do what is in front of them because there is no one else to do it. In this book there are two “ordinary” heroes: Mau, a boy-becoming-a-man, whose village has been wiped out; and Daphne, whose life hasn’t had a lot of training in practical activity, and now must learn about things like delivering babies and making beer. At one point a story teller is telling the small group of people on the island about something Mau did, and how very brave he was. In the midst of it, as he builds tension, he mentions that Mau wet himself. One of the listeners thinks, What? That’s not the sort of thing you say about a hero! But it is exactly the sort of thing you reveal about a hero who inspires the people around him. This is the sort of person you want as your leader, because he is still human, and he fears, and he does it anyway.
It seems to me Pratchett is very fond of strong female characters, the sort who know what they want to do with their lives, and can be very firm about doing it. His Granny Weatherwax and Tiffany (from the Disc World series) are two of my favorites. Now Daphne is one of them, too. Yes, she’s afraid, and she cries. But she learns to deliver babies, and cook, and chew food for an old lady, and saw off a diseased foot, and that’s not all. She uses her intelligence, and notices things. And she learns to die, and to bring someone back from the land of the dead.
“Nation” is a wonderful novel, appropriate for anyone about 12 years old and up. It is funny, and suspenseful, and will make you think. Thank you for writing it, Mr. Pratchett!
NOTE: This entry rambles a bit, but “Nation” really is a good book. Read it. 🙂