Sunday, December 14, 2008


Nation by Terry Pratchett
367 pages

I wasn't sure what to expect from this book - it's not a Discworld novel, which is the setting of the other novels by Terry Pratchett that I have enjoyed. And it's marketed as a young adult/teen novel, so I wondered how the writing might differ from his usual wit and subtle social criticism. Since I don't have much reading time these days though, I hoped it would be wonderful though. I was not disappointed.

In this alternative history set in a place similar to the Pacific islands, Mau is an island boy on a week long quest to become a man. While he is away from home, a devasting tsunami destroys everything and everyone. Mau returns to his island, no longer a boy but not yet a man, because it is the Nation. Mau knows that he must protect it and rebuild it; he is the new chief, even if he is the only one left. He discovers the ghost girl, a pale skinned girl who arrived on the wave in a large wooden ship that crashed into the island. Daphne and Mau set about finding a common vocabulary and dealing with the influx of refugees who are coming to the Nation.
Mau's old life is gone, washed away by the wave, along with his family and his faith in the gods. He is left only with doubt and disbelief, and an aristocratic and proper British girl to help him figure out how to restore all the things that are important in their lives.

Daphne, who's real name is Ermintrude, firmly believes that her father will come find her eventually. She is frightened of Mau and the island at first, but she tries to fit in with the locals, even taking off most of her fancy layers until she's only wearing three clothing items under her grass skirt. Daphne doesn't believe in the gods either, she believes in science. She investigates the mysteries of the Nation, applying the scientific method to discover how to make the bubbling poison into tasty beer, and using an old medical text from the wrecked ship to bring doctoring to the refugees.

I freely admit that I may just be noticing these things more since I'm doing most of my recreational reading while nursing my baby, but this is the second thing I've read this month that devotes a good chunk of text to the issue of breastfeeding. In this story, a baby arrives on the island as a refugee and his mother cannot feed him. With no other options, Mau has to risk his life to get mother pigs drunk and push aside the piglets to express the milk for the human baby. (At least until another new mother arrives, who can make enough milk for both babies.)

The other place I ran into breastfeeding in fiction was in the audiobook of Wild Designs by Katie Fforde. The main character Althea is a 38 year old mother of three teenagers. Her younger sister gets pregnant unexpectedly at 36 and is horrified to remember and retell a story about Althea breastfeeding in a supermarket. Althea quotes a maxim "a crying baby offends everyone, a nursing baby need offend no one." It's a very nice fictional discussion overall of the issues of breastfeeding in public.


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