I've been hesitant to read this book simply because it wasn't a novel of the Discworld. I don't know why that should matter but it did- I was kind of pouting because it wasn't.
Nation is well, truthfully, a very complex story of faith, of coming of age, of learning that sometimes in life you must simply do things that need doing. It's about the birth of a nation- and how the need to belong to something makes a people. It's about us, all of us.
Mau is only a boy, and as a boy he must complete the trial that will bring him back home as a man. When the trial is completed and Mau is a man a big wave comes and washes away his world and he must go home as a boy because there is no one there to see that he has returned as a man. Alone on the island, the Nation, Mau the boy is now the chief and the gods demand that he restore the land.
The wave brought ashore the wreck of the Sweet Judy a large ship from an England that is not our England and the only survivor on the Judy is a trouserman (just what it says) girl who will call herself Daphne.
"One person is nothing, but two people are a Nation."
And more people come whose homes have been taken by the wave and they simply want to belong. The people are tired, and they are sad over the death of love ones who were taken by the wave. Mau asks the question "If there really are such things as the gods, how could they do such a terrible thing", and because he would dare ask, to himself and to the people, he has no soul. So Mau the boy with no soul must lead the people who have come to the Nation, because it has always belonged to his people and so it is his.
It's one of the most remarkably spiritual books I think I've ever read and I'm proud to say it doesn't contain one ounce of religion. Pratchett tackles some very tough subject matter in this seemingly light-hearted book marketed as young adult. It's written in his usual warm, humorous tone and is yet another example of the power of stories that he writes about so much but what he really wants you to think about here is what makes you you and what makes you a part of an "us". He wants you to know that it's ok to question your beliefs because through questioning you may actually discover what it is you do believe in. Pratchett always, always wants his readers thinking.
As I read Nation I start to think about what it and his other young adult novels (Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky, Wintersmith, Maurice and His Educated Rodents) mean. Though they exist within his Discworld (with the exception of Nation) they are something entirely different, and yet comfortably the same as his primary novels. I've thought about it and what I've decided is he's leaving a legacy. These books are guides on how to grow up and for those of us that the world already considers to be grown up- how to be better at it. Pratchett has a very selfless view of mankind that is increasingly rare. He wants you to look at the people around you. His Discworld is a parody and a direct reflection of the world in which we live. His neighbors are our neighbors, our citizens are very much the same as his, only he can really see them. While we all may love our lives, and hopefully we even have a few people in it whom we love, Pratchett simple loves people. Collectively. I think he's one of the nicest people the world has ever had the privilege of holding.
Some of you may not know it, but in 2007 Terry Pratchett was diagnosed with a rare form of early onset Alzheimer's. Though his disease isn't far advanced and in all probability he may have a million stories yet to tell, I worry for him as I would a member of my own family. He is a very gifted man and the world will lose something very special when he leaves us. We will lose one of our god anchors.