deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
deborah ([personal profile] deborah) wrote2009-05-14 09:35 pm

Kinda Subversive Kinda Hegemonic: overtly anti-colonialist and yet...

I've heard so much about Terry Pratchett's Nation that I was really looking forward to reading it, and I was very excited when I found it left by considerate housemates in the place where the night before I had deposited my borrowed copy of Oppel's Starclimber. I didn't know anything about the premise going in, and I certainly didn't know that by its conclusion it was going to become explicitly, didactically anti-racist and anti-colonialist. But less than 50 pages into it, I was already intensely disturbed at the world building. Alternate history Western Europe looks familiar enough, populated as it is with France and Britain, Christianity and the Magna Carta, Boadicea and the Crimean War. Yet the islander culture of this book is an invented people, in an invented ocean, with an invented island, invented animals, with an invented vaguely South Pacific culture, and an invented religion.

Maybe my immersion in the particular Internet cultures of which I am a part have changed me and my reading more than I thought, because I was surprised when Web searching did not turn up a whole lot of readers saying OH SIR TERRY NO.

The novel's author's note explains that the culture of the Nation is entirely unlike anything that happens in our world, because it is in a parallel universe. But if that's so, why is parallel universe Europe so readily identifiable? Why is it that Europeans look the same no matter what universe you are in, but naked, brown-skinned, equatorial islanders are people whose cultures you can invent out of whole cloth?

It troubles me to be critiquing this book along those lines, because it was so overtly anti-colonialist and anti-racist in its message (in its own complex KSKH way, at least). And I am not saying it shouldn't be read. I enjoyed it, although not as much as I have enjoyed some other Pratchett, and I think it's a fine book to put in children's hands. But I find the invention of a (sort of) Pacific Islander culture and religion really troubling in a world which -- very unusually for Pratchett -- actually resembles our world.

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