I loved this book. I didn’t think I would, because it’s about two things I don’t typically enjoy reading about: American politics (ugh) and dystopian futures (double ugh). I picked up American War by Omar El Akkad despite these hesitations because I had read some positive reviews of it, and the author was featured in Quill and Quire, which I follow and read religiously. I’m so glad I did, because this is a book that will stay with me for a long time, and for me, a long time is about 4 or 5 books away.
The story is set in America between 2075-2123, a desolate place I hope remains only this author’s incredible imagination because half of the east coast is underwater, and the west coast is burnt to a crisp. Alaska remains one of the few places that is temperate enough to live, although it rarely snows there anymore. Climate change is not the only force that’s torn this country apart; a second civil war has broken out between the north and south. The southern states seceded from the north after being forced into abandoning their use of fossil fuels. Terrorism within the states is also a clear and present danger-plagues released by humans are ravaging populations, killing as many as 100 million people at a time. Although I’m sure you’ll agree with me that this all sounds terrifying, wouldn’t you also agree that this also sounds…possible?
Climate refugees exist in other parts of the world, North America certainly isn’t immune to this either. And the horrific circumstances that the protagonist Sarat and her family endure in this book aren’t that unique-the atrocities they experience (having to flee their home, living in a refugee camp for years on end, etc.) are occurrences that we hear about on the news every day here in 2017, but those stories take place millions of miles away from us, so unfortunately we don’t seem to be able to drum up as much empathy for these people as they deserve. I think that’s what I found truly disturbing about this book; not the fact that this could happen, but the fact that it’s happening already, right now as I type this, and not a lot of people seem to care.
Akkad is masterful at building a connection between the reader and Sarat, even though she does horrible things. Her capacity for hate seems to be unending, but at the same time we realize “The universal slogan of war … was simple: If it had been you, you’d have done no different” (p. 184). There are of course exceptions to every rule, but it’s difficult to judge someone’s actions when you’ve never been placed into that exact same situation before, with those same biases, upbringing, experience, etc.
I also appreciate that there’s no clear right or wrong in this novel-each side does terrible things to each other, and I was never sure whose ‘side’ I was on, which to me, mimics lots of wars perfectly. We’d like to think there are good and bad guys, but it rarely turns out that way. So this book won’t provide you with many answers, but it will prompt you to listen to your international news broadcast with a more understanding and empathetic ear.
Hmmmm….. I have read quite a few books on wars including several US Civil War books. Although this book sounds very disturbing I think I will read it. Thanks for this review and your thoughts on it.
I hope you enjoy it!
I don’t know if I am stout enough to read this book! But it does sound thought-provoking and I’ve heard good things.
it is INTENSE to say the least, and would probably hit home especially hard for an American 🙂
I just kinda skimmed your thoughts on this one because it’s in my “soonish” stack but I’m glad to hear that you enjoyed it despite your reservations. And I like the sounds of a character whose perspective is a little challenging.
challenging would be an understatement, dependant on your political leanings I think 🙂
Sounds terrifyingly possible, unfortunately! You’re so right about us being able to quietly ignore what’s going on until it affects us directly – though of course the massive influx of refugees and immigrants to all western societies is one side-effect that is already affecting us all. Not sure how I’d cope with a hate-filled protagonist, but it sounds like a very powerful read. And I’m not at all surprised about Smokey – you can see how well-read she is by the gleam in her eye…
I knew you’d feel the same way FictionFan, we are always on the same political wavelength, even though we live thousands of miles apart 🙂
I was curious because I like dystopian futures, but not politics (UGH hahahaha), and Im glad you loved it 😀
I don’t think I would read this book. It would scare me too much and send me into a stress-related eczema flare up. 😬
well no one wants that, so I don’t blame you for passing on this one!
I LOVED this book and am so glad you did too!! I love dystopian future books but this one especially resonated with me. If you liked this one I would highly recommend Underground Airlines – it has a similar vibe but is set with the premise that slavery is still legal in a few of the Southern States. SO GOOD.
Ohh I’ve never heard of that-but it sounds great! Thanks for the recommendation 🙂
Really glad you liked this! I read it a little while ago and was completely absorbed. 😁
So glad to hear you loved it. It’s been on my radar since it came out – I even had it out from the library but didn’t get to it before someone else wanted it. I actually *do* like reading about war (including the Cival War), but I also get the sense that’s not really what this book is about.
The scariest dystopian novels are the ones that seem completely possible, aren’t they?
you got that right! And there’s not alot of mention of Canada in this book, so do with that what you will…
Oh, I meant to say that I particularly like this picture of Smokey and the book. 🙂
Sounds like a good read. I love books like these, the authors make you ponder about things going on around you. Adding it to my TBR, thanks for the review!
thanks for reading!