This is a book that I found myself calling wonderful from the very beginning and immediately knowing it would be a favorite. It's one I'd recommend to nearly anyone. Be sure to buy a copy when it comes out in October of 2008.
This alternate history takes place in a time when the redcoats were plopping down flags on islands without asking the permission of the natives. Most authors fail to give such natives equal or superior intellectual status with their European contemporaries. Instead, such people are painted as savages. Pratchett seeks here to blur the normal lines between civilized and savage and redefine these words.
The story begins when "savage" Mau returns to his particular island for his ceremony of manhood only to find that the entire Nation has been swept away in a tidal wave. Upon his return, he finds Daphne, a "civilized" European teenage girl, who has been washed on shore in the remains of her ship. Out of fear, Daphne immediately and savagely tries to shoot the native islander. They eventually have to look past their pre-conceived ideas of each other as different varieties of savages to make the Nation live again. Soon other survivors from around the area begin to show up to take refuge there. Mau finds himself stealing milk from a wild hog and Daphne finds herself delivering babies and making beer. After Mau retrieves a fourth never-before-seen god anchor from the sea, Daphne urges him to go one step further and roll away a very ancient stone from the mouth of a cave to uncover other secrets of his forefathers. This is when a most amazing and unexpected discovery surfaces that "turns the world upside down" and puts into question history as we know it.
Benjamin Franklin said in his essay "Remarks Concerning the Savages of North America" that "if we could examine the manners of different nations with Impartiality, we should find no People so rude, as to be without any Rules of Politeness; nor any so polite, as not to have some remains of Rudeness." In Nation, Pratchett seeks to define the difference between the civilized and the savage in a different way than we normally do. Is one country civilized just because they were luckier in their inventions or the natural resources available to them? Is a cannibal more savage than a man who kills people and other living beings just for the fun of it? Could only Europeans come to logical conclusions about life and the nature of the universe?
I wish this had been written by an American author so I could assign it in my American literature class. I just had my students debate whether native American Indians were civilized or savage. This book would have been the perfect accompaniment to that debate. Note: While I critique both purchased and free books in the same way, I'm legally obligated to tell you I received this book free through the Amazon Vine program in return for my review. Blah blah blah.