NATION by Terry Pratchett

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In a parallel reality to Victorian England, a plague wipes out most of the country’s population–including the first one-hundred-thirty-nine people in line for the throne. The remnants of the British government must locate the next closest heir and his daughter, Ermintrude, both of whom are abroad.

At the same time, a giant tidal wave destroys a particular island nation. Only young Mau, who was away on a journey to become a man, has survived.  He has left his boy soul on the island, so he arrives back at the Nation—not a boy, not a man, soulless—to bury the bodies of everyone he has ever known. The wave also wrecks the ship carrying Ermintrude back to England. The princess alone survives the wreck and leaves her old identity behind, changing her name to Daphne.  Together, Mau and Daphne try to fathom the tragedy and rebuild their lives as other survivors begin to arrive on the island.

Pratchett does not conceal the grotesque reality of death.  Nor does he avoid the intense spiritual and emotional questions that accompany the clash of cultures in a post-apocalyptic world.  The characters wrestle with identity, cultural heritage, language, racial prejudice, religion, friendship, love, and grief. The philosophical questions are subtle and inconclusive, deftly woven into the narrative.  And underlying all of it is Terry Pratchett’s quirky sense of humor–especially poignant in this dark context.  Although written for young adults, Nation resonates with a broad audience.  It will keep you thinking even after you put the book down!

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