- Title: American War
- Author: Omar El Akkad
- Genre: Dystopian War Fiction
- Structure: Third-person linear narration bookended with first person narration
- First Line: “When I was young, I collected postcards.”
Synopsis: 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.
I wanted this book to be a big hit for me. But, if I’m being honest, it was “eh”. It was a solid, middle-of-the-row novel, which actually isn’t bad considering this a debut novel. There are some points that I like about it. I think, in the future, I’d be willing to read more books written by Omar El Akkad. So, let’s get down to a couple points that I truly enjoyed about this book.
- It has a map. I know, so random! But I love when authors write about dystopian futures (or sci-fi) and include a map. I found myself referencing it several times during the novel. It’s tucked right up front and easy to find. You won’t be lost during this novel, which is a huge bonus for me.
- Omar El Akkad is a great writer. I was immediately drawn in by the way he wrote. In fact, there’s parts in the book that are meant to act as excerpts from newspapers and books (which is very creative, by the way). I was so impressed by these mini-pieces that I assumed that he maybe had a professional journalist write those parts. Low and behold, he is a professional journalist! I love authors with interesting backgrounds, especially when they put them to work and use them to their advantage.
- Going off the unique perspective, the main character is the antagonist. This is a tricky situation to do well. Most of the time, when authors attempt this, it comes out cliche, boring, and cheesy. The main character was none of these things. I always appreciate a good villain, especially when it’s the main perspective.
- This book is bold. It addresses things we are experiencing as a nation in the US without reserve. It makes for a fascinating read because you can actually witness how one goes down the road into destruction and terrorism. This is not a perspective many of us get to see in the US. In a way, it makes sense of the senseless (does not make it right, which even the author states, but it gives a story).
Being that this is a middle-of-the-row novel for me, there are plenty of things the fall under the “meh” column for me. First, and this being a personal opinion that’s not necessarily going to be yours, dystopian societies disturb me. I can read horror stories, scary ghost stories, suspense, thrillers, mystery and not bat an eyelash. Dystopian stories that portray the current world in the near future? Yeah, those things haunt me. This is not a beach read.
Secondly, one of my first thoughts about this book is that it was a boring story with interesting facts. The interesting facts kept me compelled to finish the novel. Don’t get me wrong: there were absolutely points throughout the novel where I lost track of time and pages because I was hooked. However, there were many parts during which I felt a little bored and questioning if the story was even moving along.
Lastly, the bookends were weird. I could see the creative spirit behind them, but it came off a little scattered and unclear. The bookends are in first person narration while the rest of the novel is third person. Thus, the transition in the beginning left me feeling lost and confused. Then, the transition in the end was rocky. I’m not sure if I really cared enough about the character doing the first person narration to pay any attention to it. I think the book could have done without it, or kept it in the same format as the rest of the novel.
As per usual, I give you a heads up about profanity and graphic pieces in case you, or someone you’re recommending the novel to, is sensitive. There is some profanity, but it’s few and far between. There are some graphic pieces, but for the most part, the author did a great job at giving you the gist without the gore.
THE SWEET SPOTS
In this section, I cover some of my deeper, personal thoughts. Books are meant to make you think. I always think the best books are the ones that help you discover pieces of yourself.
- Did this book remind you of anything that has happened to you?: It is very reminiscent of the political atmosphere and divide currently happening in the US. The entire premise of the book is that America became so divided that another civil war broke out. Ironically, I began reading this around the same time Trump made several ignorant statements about the American Civil War. So, in a way, this book shook me because it seemed almost too real. I also got to see firsthand what terrorism looks like on the other side (the terrorist side) and how that all falls down a slippery slope. I found that aspect fascinating and relevant to where we are in these times.
- Did this book give you any new ideas of yourself?: This book is sprinkled with a few really great lines that stuck to me. One of them is “This isn’t a story about war. It’s a story about ruin”. I found that to be a powerful line because it can obviously be applied to just about any war. It can also be applied to life and it’s hardships in a dark and twisty way. There are lines like these throughout the book that will give you pause and force you to reflect.
- What lesson did you learn?: You have two options when life hits you hard: you can learn to ride the wave and learn from the hard things or you can crumple and seek revenge. One will rise you to new levels and bring you success, prosperity, and happiness. The other will gut you from the inside out. Revenge always hurts you the most and rarely the other side.
I’d give this a 3/5 stars. I think the fact that Omar El Akkad is such a great writer definitely helped the book win some of my affection. I loved that the author took risks and I thoroughly enjoyed reading a book from the villain perspective. I found the downward spiral into out-and-out terrorism interesting and relevant. However, as I said above, there are some downsides. The biggest one for me was that the book felt stagnant in some areas, which made it boring at times. If you like dystopian futures and American fiction, you will probably like this.
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I received American War from the Book of the Month Club for April 2017. It was so great to receive personalized book recommendations at my doorstep! Honestly, I’m not sure if I would’ve picked up and experienced American War if it wasn’t for BOTM. You can join the club here for under $20 a month!
*Thank you Book of the Month Club for sponsoring this. All opinions are my own.