Sunday, October 30, 2011

Terry Pratchett: Nation

I felt like laughing a little, so I borrowed two Terry Pratchetts that I felt sure I hadn't read. This is one of them, a freestanding novel -  not Discworld that is. Just like the Discworld though it's set in a parallell universe.
This one is more like our world, just a little bit different. Starting in something like the Victorian times, a flu epidemic has wiped out the British king and 138 people in line for the throne. The 139th was never expecting to be called on, and is in the Southern Pelagic oceans somewhere trying to forget the tragic death of his wife and baby. The heir's daughter, Ermintrude, is en route to join him already when the ship sails from Britain to find the new royals. At the same time, a tsunami wave wipes out most of the population of a group of small islands in the Pelagic, leaving a young boy named Mau as sole survivor of his village/people, the Nation. The tsunami has also crashed Ermintrude's ship in the island's jungle, and they strike up a friendship while taking care of the other survivors who start drifting in.

This is not a merely funny book, even though there is always satire and wit where Pratchett is, of course. But this is often terribly tragic, as Mau struggles with losing his faith in any Gods, and on his own has to bury all his people. The story is very moving and flows well until about ... well, over 2/3 of the way. The characters are great and it's exciting. The last third or quarter or so is a little disappointing though, because I don't really see the point of it. Maybe there is no point, but it's been sort of laying out signposts for a Point all the way that I can't accept that idea easily.

No analysis, but some thoughts:

Britain/the British really struggle with accepting that the Empire was built on blood, don't they? They cling to this image of friendly if misguided Reverends tottering about the world with butterfly collections, incidentally creating an Empire on the way. One of the tsunami survivor here says something about the Trousermen not being so bad, they just want you to wear trousers and worship their God. I read an article in the Guardian the other week (I don't think it was this one but it was on a similar subject and the comments are much along the same line) on the British Empire and commenters flocked around to say that the Dutch were much worse to have as lords! or the Belgians! But were the Brits so fantastic?

I'd have liked a better resolution of Mau's pain when he sees how his people salvage all these wonderful inventions and tools from the wrecked ship, realising that to them these objects are all rare treasures and to the Trousermen these are just stuff, they hardly even value these marvellous things they have made and own. He struggles with feelings of inferiority and inadequacy. The solution is to find a cave with artefacts that show that Mau's island was originally the center of the world - not satisfactory to me!

I'd have liked the writing to better show when they're speaking which language. 

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