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American War: A novel by Omar El Akkad
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American War: A novel

by Omar El Akkad

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8644515,569 (3.75)60
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Two and a half stars, rounded up to three. I’m glad that I’ve read this for an upcoming in-person book group, since I’m not sure how to process it on my own. For me, a big strength of the book is Sarat and how she evolves as she grows to adulthood during the second American civil war. But she’s the only character who feels fully fleshed out to me. Her mother comes in at a close second, but the rest of the characters are flat and seem to exist only to further the plot, or represent an idea. I appreciate Sarat as a powerful antidote to the heroine/assassin/supermodels who are kicking and punching their way through too many movies. (Although kudos to the stuntwomen who are actually doing it, cgi enhanced or not!) But even making this comparison is unfair to a book that takes such an unflinching look at war and humanity - like comparing a real person to a cartoon. Another strength for me is the depiction of life in the eco-catastrophe of the late 21st century world. If there are scientific mistakes or impossibilities in this world, I don’t have the knowledge to recognize them – I bought it all.

I think the author’s purpose in writing this book is to bring home to Americans the horrors he’s seen as a war correspondent – a necessary and noble idea. But I think the purpose overwhelms the art, and it feels too baldly obvious to me that this story exists to string together the Iraq War, Syrian refugee camps and Guantanamo Bay.

My biggest problem with the book is that I just can’t buy its depiction of a late 21st century Confederate south, especially one that has gone to war solely for the right to mine and use fossil fuels . I guess the author was looking for something to stand in for slavery – something that’s universally recognized as evil and abhorrent. I am completely confused by the absence of race as an issue in this dystopic America – as if a late 21st century Confederacy could somehow be post-racial. We learn that Sarat’s father was latino and her mother was black, and that her twin sister looks like her father, while she looks like her mother, but after that, race simply disappears. I believe that race injustice has been and still is at the core of America’s ills, and if a book makes the leap to say it’s gone in 50 years, it has to show early 21st century readers how it happened. Maybe I’ve completely missed something here – I’m glad I’ll have a book group to talk it out this week. ( )
  badube | Mar 6, 2019 |
American War by Omar El Akkad is a distopian novel that tackles some of today’s issues such as displaced people, climate change and the great political divide that seems to be getting greater all the time. Set in the late 21st century, this is also a novel about terrorism and the birth of a terrorist.

Young Sara Chestnut grows up in a metal container by the Mississippi River in Louisiana. This is a far different America from today’s, as flooding and rising oceans have changed the landscape. A handful of southern states have rebelled and are attempting to secede from the union which has set off a second civil war. Sara parents want to emigrate north, where it is safer and the job opportunities are better, but her father is killed in a suicide bombing so Sara’s mother moves the family which consists of Sara, her twin sister Dana and her brother Simon to a refugee camp. It is here that the seeds are planted by both a groomer and the continual violence and reprisals that turn Sara into Sarat, a terrorist, with a fierce determination to retaliate against the Blues for the damage they have done to her and her family.

With it’s red states versus blue states, displaced people that are contained behind walls and ignorant politicians than only care about themselves, the obvious purpose of the author is to show what the future could bring to America if they continue to travel down the road they are currently on. I admit to feeling uncomfortable with the bleak picture that he paints, and felt that he was a little too obvious in his stance. While American War was a very good read, I felt the author could have explored Sarat’s character with more depth. One thing that totally stood out was that Sarat was a child of mixed race and the race issue was never touched upon at all. I was left feeling that perhapss the author cared more about getting his agenda across than developing the story. ( )
  DeltaQueen50 | Jan 15, 2019 |
In the future, America descends into civil war after climate change and other disasters lead the national government to (try to) ban fossil fuels. Sarat, a refugee girl, becomes a terrorist after a massacre at her refugee camp, recruited by a man funded by a foreign empire that wants the civil war to keep going. I did not like it for the same reason that I did not like Naomi Alderman’s The Power: it’s a straight up role reversal (which can also read as revenge fantasy) that doesn’t illuminate anything in the way I like speculative fiction to do; to me it’s just non-sf literary fiction with a search/replace. Also, apparently this future South has anti-Catholic bias but not anti-black bias; I’m not saying that’s impossible, because people are strange, but I have questions about the worldbuilding. ( )
1 vote rivkat | Jan 7, 2019 |
With a fascinating premise, the book pulls no punches. The ending is unsatisfactory but remains plausible. Suffering from trite dialogue, many characters are flimsy and superfluous. However, there are moments of brilliance. I'm still bewildered by the lack of discussion of race in the book. It's clearly a choice but I can't really figure out why...yet. ( )
  alexezell | Nov 14, 2018 |
Set in the near future, the war between the North and South over fossil fuels continues to disrupt lives moving the family from their home in Louisiana to a refugee camp where Sarat is recruited as a terrorist by a savvy manipulator. But, ultimately, it is the enemy that hardens her resolve as they kill and harm her and her family leading to her final act of revenge.
The early narrative is a bit disjointed and Sarat is a definite anti-hero for whom the reader feels both compassion and horror. Yet, in our current political context, much of the story hauntingly demonstrates the role we play in creating our own enemies.
1 vote 4leschats | Oct 22, 2018 |
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The one you must punish is the one who punishes you. -- Kitab al-Aghani (The Book of Songs)
Mine heritage is unto me as a speckled bird, the birds round about are against her; come ye, assemble all the beasts of the field, come to devour. -- Jeremiah 12:9
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To my father
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When I was young, I collected postcards.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0451493583, Hardcover)

An audacious and powerful debut novel: a second American Civil War, a devastating plague, and one family caught deep in the middle—a story that asks what might happen if America were to turn its most devastating policies and deadly weapons upon itself.

Sarat Chestnut, born in Louisiana, is only six when the Second American Civil War breaks out in 2074. But even she knows that oil is outlawed, that Louisiana is half underwater, and that unmanned drones fill the sky. When her father is killed and her family is forced into Camp Patience for displaced persons, she begins to grow up shaped by her particular time and place. But not everyone at Camp Patience is who they claim to be. Eventually Sarat is befriended by a mysterious functionary, under whose influence she is turned into a deadly instrument of war. The decisions that she makes will have tremendous consequences not just for Sarat but for her family and her country, rippling through generations of strangers and kin alike.

(retrieved from Amazon Sun, 01 Jan 2017 17:38:16 -0500)

"An audacious and powerful debut novel: a second American Civil War, a devastating plague, and one family caught deep in the middle--a story that asks what might happen if America were to turn its most devastating policies and deadly weapons upon itself. Sarat Chestnut, born in Louisiana, is only six when the Second American Civil War breaks out in 2074. But even she knows that oil is outlawed, that Louisiana is half underwater, and that unmanned drones fill the sky. When her father is killed and her family is forced into Camp Patience for displaced persons, she begins to grow up shaped by her particular time and place. But not everyone at Camp Patience is who they claim to be. Eventually Sarat is befriended by a mysterious functionary, under whose influence she is turned into a deadly instrument of war. The decisions that she makes will have tremendous consequences not just for Sarat but for her family and her country, rippling through generations of strangers and kin alike"--… (more)

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