Nation by Terry Pratchett Once upon a time, perhaps a two hundred years ago or so, in a world very but not quite like ours, a young boy left his boy soul on the Island of Boys and prepared to go back to the Nation in the canoe he had made. Back at home, there would be a feast. He would be given the tattoo that said he was a man and he would have the soul of a man. At the same time, a ship with an exceptionally devout captain and a mutinous first mate sailed to the remote Mothering Sunday islands to take a girl to her father. And then there was a wave, which left Mau and Ermintrude the only survivors on what the boy called Sunrise Island. Mau is thrust into new doubt – how could Imo have let this happen to his people? But even though he now believes that people invented the gods, he hears the voice of Locaha, the god of death, talking to him, and the Grandfathers telling him to put back the god anchors and start bringing them their offering of beer again. Ermintrude, meeting Mau, decides to introduce herself as Daphne. She starts hearing voices too – and both Mau and Daphne find reason to stay alive helping the other. But they are not alone for long, as Sunrise Island was the biggest of a tiny chain, and the straggling survivors from all the islands start coming, looking for refuge. Mau might be possessed by a demon, since he left his boy soul behind and never got his man soul. Daphne is just a trouserman girl, too pale to look normal. Still, the demon boy and the ghost girl, struggling to learn each others languages, are the ones rebuilding the new, tiny Nation. My one frustration with the book, really, was that it was clear that they were speaking different languages to start with and gradually learning to understand each other – but there was no difference in language or typeface to tell you which language was being used at any given point. In the hands of anyone but Terry Pratchett, this story could have been depressing, preachy, or worse. But the compelling action and the thinky questions never really answered keep it from being preachy, while Pratchett’s signature humor keeps it from being depressing. This is a great book about the meeting of cultures and the meaning of religion. While it’s written with teen protagonists, there’s a lot here for adults as well.
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