Michael Dirda on ‘Nation’

From The Washington Post:

Book_2 At one point in this excellent new novel, a boy named Mau desperately needs to find milk for a starving infant. Unfortunately, he’s on a virtually deserted island, and there just aren’t any cows or nursing mothers around.

There is only one possible source of nourishment for the baby, and Mau risks his life to procure it. Even now the thought of what the boy does still makes me shudder. In a lifetime packed with both extensive reading and vivid nightmares, I can honestly say that I have never come across anything quite so . . . well, there is no adequate word to describe an act that is as heroic as it is disgusting. For this scene alone, no reader is ever likely to forget Terry Pratchett’s Nation. Not that I would short-change the memorability of its ghosts, cannibals, bloodthirsty mutineers, forbidden burial grounds and secret treasure. Exciting in themselves, these also play their part in Pratchett’s latest examination of some fundamental questions about religious belief, the nature of culture and what it means to be human.

But let’s start at the beginning.

More here.