Nation, by Terry Pratchett
In a history resembling but several degrees removed from our own, somewhere in the Greater Pelagic Ocean, young Mau has spent a month living alone on the “boy’s island,” building the canoe he’ll need to sail home. Having proved himself worthy, he’s supposed to be welcomed by family and friends ready to celebrate his transition to manhood. Only, before Mau’s homecoming, a tsunami devastates the islands. Everyone he knew and loved has perished. Even the stone “god anchors” where his people used to leave offerings have washed away.
Marooned by the same tsunami, Ermintrude Fanshaw takes advantage of being the sole survivor of a shipwreck to change her name to Daphne. Then, being a well-bred and uncommonly resourceful young Englishwoman (and only 139th in line for the crown!), she dries out her gold-edged visiting cards and invites Mau to tea.
Mau and Daphne are courageous and well-matched partners in rebuilding society from scratch. Other refugees wash ashore in the storm’s aftermath, and the necessity of feeding children and caring for elders tempers Mau’s grief even as he worries how their fledgling community can defend itself from cannibal raiders and other pirates of the sea.
All the while, in his head, Mau hears the Grandfathers, his ancestors, chastising him from beyond their watery graves, demanding that he replace the god anchors and respect the gods that he simply cannot forgive. Daphne, who came to the island carrying her own grief, gets lectures from her inner Grandmothers.
Mau’s anger and grief are the heart of the novel, along with all the big questions: how we come to believe in higher powers and whether, after great loss, we can continue in those beliefs. It’s alternately a heartbreaking and a heartwarming story, often quite funny, and as a standalone book, a great place to start reading Pratchett if you’ve never done so.
You may also want to check out the audiobook. Reader Stephen Briggs does such a fantastic job on the audio version, and sometimes British humour just sounds better read by Brits.
Check the WRL catalog for Nation
Or check out the audiobook