If there is one book, that deeply soothes and relaxes my mind in these challenging times, it is Terry Pratchett‘s novel Nation. Written for young adults, and the first non Diskworld book in 20 years, it spoke to me on a very deep level about how to deal with changes bigger than we would normally like to deal with.
The central theme of the book is one of coming to terms with radical changes, as the subtitle says:
When much is taken, something is returned.
Nation is set in an alternate history of our world in the 1870s and tells the story a young man, Mau, and a young woman, Daphne, whose lives are changed forever by a tsunami. Coming from two completely different cultures and upbringings, one tropical island, one British upper class, the tsunami throws them together as the only survivors, which requires the protagonists to blend and mix their two worlds with surprising results. For more details on the plot, click on wikipedia.
What makes this novel so rich, is a deep river of coming to terms with catastrophic changes. How do you make your peace with a situation that takes so much from you? Daphne ends up asking Mau towards the end of the book, if he would have preferred living a life without the tsunami and they both agree that the new opportunities were well worth the loss, pain and suffering brought on by the huge wave.
Pratchett’s gift for story telling is at its best and invites us masterfully to accompany his young protagonists on their journey into acceptance of lives dramatically disrupted and even celebration of lives forever changed. Here is a quote:
“They didn’t know why these things were funny. Sometimes you laugh because you’ve got no more room for crying. Sometimes you laugh because table manners on a beach are funny. And sometimes you laugh because you’re alive, when you really shouldn’t be.”
I felt deeply touched on several occasions during the reading of the book, and some had less to do with the details of the story and more with its author: last year Terry Pratchett was diagnosed with early signs of Alzheimer’s, and I could not help but wonder how much this book is reflecting Pratchett’s attempt of coming to terms with the prospect of such radical changes as that particular disease can bring.
The gift of a good storyteller is that he or she can invite us to dare the ride on the wide and fast river of change even when it feels like there is no other option. We can actually imagine making it through the possibly treacherous rapids not only unscathed, but stronger for it.
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- Review: Terry Pratchett: Living with Alzheimer’s BBC2 Minder Five (telegraph.co.uk)
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