If you were to begin Terry Pratchett’s “Nation” at the end, the first paragraph you would read would be the last paragraph of the author’s note.
Thinking: This book contains some. Whether you try it at home is up to you.
The best-selling author probably would be amused by such an approach to his book, since he has built quite an audience with his “Discworld” series, featuring a saucer-shaped world carried through space by an enormous turtle supported by four elephants big enough to carry an enormous turtle carrying a saucer-shaped world.
In “Nation,” Pratchett takes a break from Discworld, instead focusing on a small island and a 13-year-old boy named Mau.
While returning to his island after a coming-of-age ritual, Mau barely survives a terrible tsunami. The giant wave, to Mau’s disbelief and horror, destroys his village, ending the world as he knows it. Since he hasn’t finished the rites to become a man, Mau still feels as if he is a boy — a hermit crab out of its shell, looking for a new one.
Soon, Mau realizes he is not alone on the island. Daphne, who Mau calls the Ghost Girl because she is white, is the only survivor of a shipwreck caused by the wave. Though separated by a language barrier, the two bring comfort to each other as the reality of their massive loss weighs on them. Other survivors begin to arrive at the island, and Daphne and Mau work together to keep everyone safe and healthy, physically and spiritually.
Though Mau spends much of his time caring for the refugees, he is faced with his own spiritual questions. What kind of god would kill all his people? Are all the legends of his land true? Why should he follow customs for no other reason than that he always has?
“I’m the little blue hermit crab,” said Mau under his breath. “And I am running. But I will not be trapped in a shell again because ... yes there has to be a because ... because ... any shell will be too small. I want to know why. Why everything. I don’t know the answers, but a few days ago I didn’t know there were questions.”
“Nation” not only is a coming-of-age tale, but is a story of survival and the bonds of people. As Mau struggles with universal questions, he still must endure and lead. He does so bravely.
Readers won’t be disappointed with “Nation” as it contains plenty of Pratchett’s trademark wit. But the author goes a step further with this book, balancing his clever humor with a touching thoughtfulness revealed through a boy forced over the brink to manhood.
“Nation” is a charming read.