Book Review – American War – Omar El Akkad
Book: American War
Author: Omar El Akkad
Year of Release: 2017
Read 417-page paperback edition in July 2018.
In the year 2074, a second American civil war has broken out. Due to the ravages of climate change, the geography and climate of the continent, and the world, has changed immensely over the century. However, the real shock to America has been the breakout of a bloody war, when the south opposes the north’s decision to ban fossil fuels.
Looking more closely at the Chestnut family, we see the lives of three children, including Sarat Chestnut, affected. Sarat and her siblings are pulled away from their flooding state of Louisiana and brought to Camp Patience, a large refugee camp. There, Sarat and her siblings grow up, seeing what war does to the people and land around them.
Sarat also encounters people, including a mysterious teacher, who helps her to understand not only what side she is on, but also what she is willing to do, in this fight.
Egyptian-Canadian author Omar El Akkad, now living in the USA, has brought to life a haunting and powerful image of a future state, made very relevant in the current days of Trump, fake news, and a polarized America.
The author has done an exceptional job bringing to life the main character Sarat. He describes her throughout the book in vivid ways, and her tomboy-ish childhood tendancies evolve into an intense, violent, and highly intelligent adult. The description of Sarat is often done through her actions, and through the actions done to her. By putting Sarat in the centre of the action, from childhood to adulthood, the reader has a great picture of who she is and what she stands for.
The plot is well defined and fast-moving, and covers multiple years of war time, as well as attempts at peace time. Th author has done a great job demonstrating the tragedy of the child soldier and the lives of those who end up staying for years in refugee camps. Seeing Sarat and her brother Simon, who become participants in the violence around them, is disturbing. Omar El Akkad has done an exceptional job bringing this to life, and educating the reader with this powerful plot.
One element of the plot that is a little disjointed and slightly hard to believe is the final sequence, where Sarat makes decisions that have extreme consequences. Although one can certainly believe that she may have made those decisions, the impacts on various family members, and how she chooses to interact with various family members leading up to the decision, are in some ways inconsistent. Perhaps there could have been a way to still carry out this extreme decision but smooth out some of the inconsistencies with how Sarat handled the individuals around her?
That is a minor complaint however. On the whole, this is a nuanced tale, and the author has succeeded in creating characters and siturations that the reader can sympathize with, and at the same time be angered and troubled by. This complexity demonstrates a true success and portrays the reality of war; that it is shades of grey, and not a black and white situation, that individuals often find themselves in.
Overall, this is a powerful, gripping dystopia, a future that one hopes will not come to pass.
Overall: 4.5 stars out of 5 stars