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American War

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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.

384 pages, Kindle Edition

First published April 4, 2017

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About the author

Omar El Akkad

10 books1,049 followers
Omar El Akkad is an author and journalist. He was born in Egypt, grew up in Qatar, moved to Canada as a teenager and now lives in the United States. The start of his journalism career coincided with the start of the war on terror, and over the following decade he reported from Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay and many other locations around the world. His work earned a National Newspaper Award for Investigative Journalism and the Goff Penny Award for young journalists. His fiction and non-fiction writing has appeared in The Guardian, Le Monde, Guernica, GQ and many other newspapers and magazines. His debut novel, American War, is an international bestseller and has been translated into thirteen languages. It won the Pacific Northwest Booksellers’ Award, the Oregon Book Award for fiction, the Kobo Emerging Writer Prize and has been nominated for more than ten other awards. It was listed as one of the best books of the year by The New York Times, Washington Post, GQ, NPR, Esquire and was selected by the BBC as one of 100 novels that changed our world. His short story “Government Slots” was selected for the Best Canadian Stories 2020 anthology. His new novel is forthcoming from Knopf.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 4,764 reviews
Profile Image for Michael Finocchiaro.
Author 3 books5,480 followers
September 6, 2021
I struggled on this one between 3 and 4 stars. On one hand, it is action-packed and a pretty horrifying dystopian novel. On the other, my suspension of disbelief was severely challenged by the timeline and the realignment of world power (don't worry - no spoilers). The protagonist, Sarat is an interesting and tragic figure, but she was hard to have sympathy for at times. Some of her actions were predictable, not to say almost caricatural while her actions do seem realistically driven by her suffering.

The thing that bugged me about the book was the almost complete absence of black characters (other than the protagonist) and descriptions of racism. Sure, there is a lot about North (Blue) vs South (Red), but all the principle characters (soldiers, rebels, survivors) are white. No Hispanics or Blacks. I would also like to have had more justification to how all the land from Texas to California gets swallowed by Mexico, particularly if the cartel was not at the bottom of it.

One thing I did enjoy and appreciate in this book was the implicit warning about the coming environmental crises on both coasts of the US. Some of the other catastrophes were as horrifying even if they begged - as I mentioned before - quite a lot of suspension of disbelief.

The wartime writing was good and it is primarily action and circumstance that drives this novel. I will be curious to see where the author goes next with his quite vivid and emboldened imagination. I guess this is kind of a zombie-less The Walking Dead mashed up with The Man in the High Castle in a way. In any case, a quick read and interesting, thought-provoking story.
Profile Image for Jilly.
1,838 reviews6,126 followers
June 19, 2020
ETA: Hey, are you someone who is considering writing some dissertation on why my review is wrong and I'm stupid? Do you feel that you are the one that needs to correct my path, or even just punish me for having the nerve to write this review?

Well, guess what? There is a solution for your problem. It's called "Write your own damn review"!! That's right. You have the power to write your own opinions in your own review.

But, then how will everyone know that you think I'm wrong?

Guess what again? People can make their own informed decisions by reading a variety of opinions that differ on a subject. Or, they may even decide to read the book themselves and write their own, unique, review.

It's crazy stuff, but try it.

But, if you're so angry that you need to get on here and call me names and shit, feel free. Just know that I'm not going to argue with you at all. You will simply be deleted and blocked and nobody will see what you spent all that time and thought writing. So, maybe save yourself the trouble.

Oh, and....

My unique review:

My reasons for disliking this book are complicated. My main feelings about it is that it's a hacky piece of work that is trying very hard to be politically profound, but failing in execution.

First, let's talk about why it fails (in my eyes) as a dystopian novel. And, no, I don't mean its lack of a teenager falling in love with a rebel boy or the fact that they don't seem to all be dressed as emo soldiers (although there are plenty of soldiers).

See? This is how it's done.

There are two ways to go about building a good dystopia:
1. Make it so far-fetched that it is fantasy and therefore the reader is not comparing it to reality.
2. Make it close to reality with an event that changes it enough to be dystopia, regardless of whether the event itself is realistic.

Another essential element.

This book is trying to be modeled by the second option, but falls short in enough ways to suspend believability and make the reader question the timeline and events in the context of what we know to be true.

Aww, now this is more like it. Totally believable.

The event that is supposed to be the break from our timeline is a second Civil War in America. The problem was that the book pretty much just recycled the real Civil War and changed a few things, like fossil fuel for slavery. If this war was meant to be in any way believable, we would have to agree that our country learned nothing the first time and were willing to do the exact same thing a couple hundred years later. And yes, fossil fuel usage is a pretty Southern thing, but in this world the polar ice caps have melted and many cities are underwater. I think at that point people would probably give up the idea of global warming not being true.

Why couldn't the Titanic sink in Carribbean instead? Or have Rose scoot over a bit? They done Leo wrong, man!

Next, let's talk about why it fails as a political commentary.
In this reality, the Arab nations and Africa all unite to become a super-country that is the bestest most prosperous and stablest place on Earth. Now, I'm not going to say anything crazy like "this could never happen", but let's face it, this book isn't set far enough in the future to resolve every problem in the Middle East and Africa - which are very different problems by the way.

Don't forget Africa while you are at it, Bob. Thanks!

Not only this, but in so many other ways, the book was eye-rolling in its desire to pander to an audience who would be super excited about the idea that America will suffer and fall. And, not just us, folks. You over there in the European area - your people are desperately trying to cross the borders into the safe sweet arms of the Middle East as well. We all want a piece of that pie.

Maybe we can make a trade...

There is such thinly veiled hate for America in this book that it's hidden about as well as an Easter Egg at the blind-kid school.

Sometimes things are obvious.

During this second Civil War, we are living off the generosity of China's aid in the form of food and blankets, we are displaced from our homes and put into refugee camps, we are being turned into suicide bombers with the financial aid of Egypt, and we even have our own little Guantanamo where our Southern Belles are being tortured (yes, waterboarding happens).

Southern girls have already been tortured by Southern mamas all their lives. Haven't they suffered enough?

Is someone pissed at us?

Has someone been having little "Death to America" dreams that they needed to get down on paper?

Get in line.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,694 reviews14.1k followers
April 5, 2017
A second civil war, a war over fossil fuel banned in the North but in the Southern states they still have plenty of resources and once again do not want to be dictated by those in the government. Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi, South Carolina secede from the Union. It is the late 2000's, climate change has already changed the map, coastal cities wiped out, west and South, Louisianan lowlands gone, a plague is released resulting in South Carolina being quarantined, walled in, residents not allowed to leave, sick city.

A very scary scenario, the North without mercy, the South breaking off into splinter groups, all willing to die for the glory of the South. A father is killed and a mother in desperation takes her small family, son and two twin daughters, Dana and Sarat and is allowed to move to a relocation camp. Here a devastating act of revenge will be unleashed changing this family without measure.

This is an intense look at war and the damage it causes in individual lives. Sarat is our unlikely protagonist, and whether you like her character, approve of what she does or does not do, the author does a fantastic job enlightening the reader in just how she was formed, how she felt and why she acted as she did. It highlights the way the manipulators seek their victims and use them for their own motives. Using this one family and those who come into contact with them, following some in their long journey from beginning to end, I found incredibly impactful. The writing is excellent and the characters are impressive. This book was so vividly portrayed that it engaged all my emotions, how absolutely horrific were the situations in which they found themselves. The last lines of this book so incredibly poignant.

Could this happen here again? Well they say never say never. I like to think not but it is being experienced daily in many countries. Syria for instance, with new staggering death tolls due to a chemical attack. So at the very least this book can serve as a warning and in some instances absolute reality.

ARC from Knopf publishing.
Profile Image for Holly.
1,004 reviews218 followers
May 2, 2017
I didn't understand the point of this. Something huge is missing in this novel. There is a hole in the center. Omar El Akkad tells a story of a new American Civil War taking place around the year 2075. To paint this setting he borrows heavily from the American Civil War of 1862-1865 and he replicates and augments the Old South's long-abiding sense of injustice - the Lost Cause and lost way of life, loyalty to family and one's people before all else, "real" Southern values, etc. But we know what that is all a code for: SLAVERY (rich southern whites' fight to keep the institution of slavery).

This novel redraws every tired cliché of the Old South, but omits the institution of slavery, and leaves this story of war without a believable reason for the war. It's hollow, it's a shallow reflection, a pastiche. Now, one could say that the cause doesn't matter because El Akkad really wanted to explore the effects of civil war or why people continue to fight when the cause is lost. But that doesn't satisfy me, because the underlying reasons matter.

For what it's worth, the barely-mentioned and unexplained cause of the animosities is the use of fossil fuels (the South wants to keep using them; the rest of the country/world want to move on). But how does one region continue the fuel-guzzling way of life in the global economy? - Oh, yes, there is a parallel to slavery, one thinks! But it still didn't make sense to me, because there is no demagogue to exploit the South's violence, no religious motivation to undergird it, and since this is apparently a color-blind society in which race is not noticed, no class and race divisions within the South to be protected. They just hate the North. So the actual justification for this civil war isn't devotion to gasoline-fueled vehicles, it's vengeance. That's what he really writes about.

The main character is an African-American/Latina tomboy girl who grows up to be a shattered, hate-filled, violent 6 foot, 5 inch lesbian who usually displays prejudice, ignorance, and provincial close-mindedness. (What is the explanation for her gigantism or her sexuality? I have cynical suspicions.) Sarat's speech veers from the demotic and colloquial ("I ain't done nothin") to the grammatically-correct and near eloquent (eloquent hate and venom, that is).

A few examples of the rhetoric:

-- You must understand that in this part of the world, right and wrong ain't about who wins, or who kills who. In this part of the world, right and wrong ain't even about right and wrong. It's about what you do for your own. (Tribal mentality)

-- [for Sarat]: . . . the calculus was simple: the enemy had violated her people, and for that she would violate the enemy. There could be no other way, she knew it.

-- Gaines (the recruiter who exploits Sarat and makes her a terrorist) explaining his philosophy of vengeance against the North and loyalty to the South:
I sided with the Red because when a Southern tells you what they're fighting for - be it tradition, pride, or just mule-headed stubbornness - you can agree or disagree, but you can't call it a lie. When a Northern tells you what they're fighting for, they'll use words like democracy and freedom and equality and the whole time both you and they know that the meaning of those words changes by the day, changes like the weather. I'd had enough of all that. You pick up a gun and fight for something, you best never change your mind. Right or wrong, you own your cause and you never, ever change your mind.

-- And: If you knew for a fact we were wrong, would it be enough to turn you against our people? "No." Gaines smiled. "Good girl," he said.

I just never saw this novel let go of this rhetoric or go beyond this level of reasoning. There was no redemption, no learning, no big shifts. (And I don't think that a couple things Sarat did near the end were actually compassionate. She

It was so blatantly cinematic and screenplay-adaptation-ready that I assume the movie rights have been/will be optioned. A lot would depend on what kind of film a director/writer wants to make. A good screenplay could overlay some political meaning that the novel was missing, and create something subversive and thought provoking. (Not that I will want to see it). But if they want to make a broadly popular film, then Sarat Chestnut will need to be made more appealing to the masses. She's no Katniss Everdeen.

Lastly, with regard to the prose and the sentences, I didn't find anything special. The author seemed to use every stereotype of the South he could find - flora, fauna, heat, water, smells, dialect and attitudes. The pacing was okay, but the many "set-pieces" were cynical and nasty: to-the-death cage fighting as mass spectator sport, scenes of torture in a women's prison. . . . and the Southern sets (mise-en-scène) that almost reminded me of Westworld. And no exploration of how the US of 2017 - divided as we are, becomes the US of 2075. Very little history, I mean. If you discount all the historical set-pieces transplanted sixty years into the future.
Profile Image for Danielle.
792 reviews387 followers
February 6, 2022
The premise of this book sounded depressing, yet promising. 🤔 The reality being, it could happen. 😬However, this overall fell a bit short for me. 🙁 The characters were very flat, leaving me feeling uninterested in what was going to happen. It’s not horrible, but not great either. 🤷🏼‍♀️
Profile Image for Philip.
497 reviews667 followers
December 1, 2017
3.5ish stars

This is not your typical dystopia. I feel like that word, dystopia, has developed something of a negative connotation in literature recently because of the inundation of books, especially YA ones, that fit into the sub-genre. American War is science fiction in the same way that The Road or The Handmaid's Tale are science fiction, which is to say, more speculative than science. And while this book may not be on the same level as those two, it's really not that far from it.

The author presents a fairly well-realized future in which the US is entrenched in a second civil war. While the catalyst for entering war, the banning of fossil fuels this time instead of slavery, isn't necessarily convincing for me, the actual events of the war seem plausible. EDIT 9/1 Upon rumination, I feel there's a lot missing from the explanation and the events of the war, and with the future society in general. It seems that the only real issue is the fossil fuels, which doesn't seem like enough of a catalyst to cause and continue a war for so long. END EDIT.

It's not perfect. The writing is very good but not great. There seem to be a lot of things unaddressed, perhaps intentionally, but they're things I think would be relevant and important to at least make mention of. Regardless, the focus of the story is on an individual and how she's changed and morphed by the war- from the time she's six, living happily at home with her parents and siblings, to twenty years later after having lived through unspeakable tragedy and abuse. The book queries How much can a person's experiences justify her actions?

It touches as well (although maybe not as much as one might expect from the title) on American issues, history and culture but I could argue that it doesn't matter so much where the story takes place and maybe, as some have pointed out, its American setting is more to reach a wider audience than anything else. It's depressing and bleak, but still not quite emotionally stirring enough for me to really connect with the main character. Overall a very respectable debut with some impressive, timely speculation.

Posted in Mr. Philip's Library
Profile Image for Snotchocheez.
595 reviews322 followers
April 30, 2017
4 stars

I can't quite gush effusively for Omar El Akkad's American War, but not since The Handmaid's Tale has a dystopian novel spoken to me so loud and clear. (The thinly veiled "Fuck you, Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions" message was probably integral to my enjoyment.)

Pretty simple concept: imagining the United States, circa the late 21st century in the midst of a second Civil War, thanks in no small part to global warming (Florida is gone gone gone) and the polemical divide between"Blues" and "Reds". To El Akkad's (and the book's) credit, the focus is not quite on the war itself (which is a good thing; I'm not sure, with the books I've read lately, how much warfare I could stomach). Rather, much of the attention is centered on the Chestnut family (and more specifically, fraternal twin sisters Sara T. -- or Sarat -- and Dana) and their woes contending with life pre- to post-war in the "purple lands" of Louisiana at the periphery of the seceded Free Southern State. Even though the war is "off-camera" (conveyed via interspersed archival papers and news reports, reminiscent of Max Brooks' World War Z, sans zombies) the Chestnut family's travails are unflinchingly harsh and brutal, particularly as they are uprooted from Louisiana to "Camp Patience", a refugee "tent favela" in Iuka, Mississippi. Sarat, in contending with the strife (of dodging snipers, "Birds"--drone bombers--and the South Carolina-centered plague), emerges as an enigmatic badass heroine, a 6'5" seething anger vessel hell-bent on retribution for the Blues' ripping apart her family.

There's probably going to be a contingent of readers who hate this novel for El Akkad's pretty obvious (to me) anti-right stance, and others might pooh-pooh the melodrama, but the "What If" scenario he's dreamed up, for its plausibility alone, makes this a frighteningly fascinating wake-up call. Expect the Netflix adaptation forthwith.
Profile Image for Bryan Alexander.
Author 4 books270 followers
April 24, 2017
"Everyone fights an American war." (306)
Do you know the experience of diving into a book expecting one certain thing, only to realize part-way through that the thing is actually about another subject? You assume X, but get Y?

That's how I read Omar El Akkad's recent novel American War. Everything I read described a near-future novel about a second Civil War, with the north and south tearing at each other once again. And the book does fulfill that promise. We follow a Louisiana family as members experience the horrors of civil war as children and adults, civilians and more active participants.

Yet around two-thirds of the way through I was losing patience. While the characters were convincing, the world-building kept failing to make sense. At first I ascribed this to the author's inexperience (it's a first novel) or unfamiliarity with science fiction. Then it hit me. American War is actually about the American war on terror. It's a metaphor, whereby the experience suffered by other nations, notably Iraq, transposes itself onto American soil.

I'm not sure that worked out well.

A little background: American War takes place in the 21st century's final quarter, after climate change has trashed North American coastal cities and devoured nearly all of Florida. Mexico has somehow claimed back parts of the southwest (this is never explained), the federal capitol is safely removed to Ohio, and the South secedes rather than give up carbon-based fuels. A quick conventional battle gives way to attenuated guerrilla warfare, including an occupation and biological warfare. In a nod to late 20th/early 21st-century political shorthand, the north (the feds) are the Blues, while the south are Reds.

The Chestnut* family comes from what is now coastal Louisiana. Of mixed race (Latino and black) they scrabble for existence, then relocate as a new bout of fighting draws near. Daughter Sarat is our main character and protagonist (yet not heroine), a strong and brutalized young woman who develops radically. The whole narrative is dotted with excerpts from historical documents, and framed by a future historian's reflections.

The writing can be lovely. The first chapter's second sentence: "The sun broke through a pilgrimage of clouds and cast its unblinking eye upon the Mississippi Sea." Lovely, and a neat bit of science fiction's transformed language. There's a fine and dark rebel's catechism, with an eye on Nechaeyev:
What is the first anesthetic?
And if I take your wealth?
And if I demolish your home, burn your fields?
And if I make it taboo to sympathize with your plight?
And if I kill your family?
And God...
...Hasn't said a word in two thousand years. (136)
The novel can also draw a bead on official language's own voice, as when a suicide bomber becomes "an insurrectionist [who] detonated a homicide bomb" (30).

El Akkad is also good with references. I'm pretty sure the two characters named Weiland are references to Charles Brockden Brown's Wieland: or, The Transformation (1798), a horrific tale about manipulation and family horror. A training scene on 191 is clearly a nod to the exercises in Kipling's Kim (1901).

Above all, this is a fiercely emotional novel. Our point of view characters suffer terribly, and El Akkad brings their pain to us quite well. They also love and connect with people, a sweetness we can appreciate. Indeed, one penultimate scene involves an unlikely reunion of the sort Victor Hugo loved, and combines implausibility with tear-jerking pathos (322-6).

So how does this become an Iraq war novel? The world's technology averages to a historical level of around 2005. We do get hints of some kind of electric car and boat, but are otherwise working with gear from generations prior to what we should expect from 2080: drones ("Birds", 41), gas-powered trucks, tablet computers, and televisions, when the southern communities haven't fallen further back to pole barges, AC-less houses, and old school moonshine. The south is filled with semi-organized insurgent bands, rather than a unified army, and their weapons include roadside bombs, suicide bombing, and sniping. I must finish the answer in spoilers, alas -

It reminds me of the powerful 3rd season of Battlestar Galactica (2006-2007), which turns our sympathetic point of view characters into insurgents and suicide bombers ("We're evil men in the gardens of paradise, sent by the forces of death to spread devastation and destruction wherever we go"). That was a fine act of science fiction imagination, especially as it occurred right during the occupation's most violent and unstable phase. The Avatar movie did something similar, if far less interestingly. El Akkad is following a similar rich path.

So why am I unhappy? Several reasons, beginning with missing big honking bits of Southern culture. Our heroine and her mother are black, while her siblings and father are Latino (40)... and this never comes up as a plot point. I'm sorry, but that makes no sense in the south, especially when characters, culture, and politics are trying so hard to recapture a pre-21st-century history. Having the family be nonwhite makes sense for the Iraq metaphor, but their racial presentation is simply unreal.

Similarly, there's next to nothing said about religion. Which is just nuts, unless El Akkad thinks secularization will sweep the south in two generations. If so, he'd really have to lay out a plausible course, but doesn't. (I'm reminded of Neil Gaiman's weird neglect of Christianity in American Gods) . There's little mention made of religion's role in organizing people for defense or offense, which misses crucial elements of both the south and Iraq.

Along these lines the second Civil War's casus belli makes sense for the metaphor, but not American culture. It begins when the federal government outlaws fossil fuels, and four southern states rebel rather than comply. That's just strange. Of the states the novel focuses on, only Louisiana is that wedded to oil and gas (and that's not mentioned). Texas, now, is all about oil, but they are hand-waved out of the story (occupied by Mexico?). The big northern and western oil and gas states apparently go along with the post-carbon order. Yes, this connects to the role of oil in the American war in Iraq, metaphorically, but doesn't make for a plausible novel.

Perhaps the novel's greatest strength is that it points to the future - not its own, but ours. The novel is very concerned with revenge. Its opening quotes are about retribution, and the plot about stoking resistance and action. The ultimate expressions of revenge are terrible. Perhaps El Akkad is advising us to look out for Iraq, along with other countries subjected to the war on terror, for another wave of wrath.

Final notes: the novel begins with a page of lovely, perfectly detailed, and quite useful maps. Why can't more nonfiction books do this?

*I'm not sure if the name is supposed to evoke Charles Chesnutt, an early 20th century black writer. Does this illuminate the historian character? I don't know his work well enough to say. Anyone?
Profile Image for Rachel.
550 reviews864 followers
August 31, 2017
It's hard to say where exactly Omar El Akkad went wrong with American War, because on the surface, this appears to be such a well-constructed novel. El Akkad ties in the story of our protagonist, Sarat, with his imagined vision of a second American Civil War in a way that's comprehensive and undeniably steeped with tragedy. The world building in this novel is immense, with various news articles scattered like historical set pieces throughout the narrative. But when you look closer, there are too many gaping holes.

What about the current social climate in America, with all our institutionalized racism and police brutality, suggests that we're moving toward a post-racial, colorblind society? How can El Akkad draw so heavily on the first American Civil War for his narrative and completely ignore the question of slavery and racism? How can the South continue to use fossil fuels when the rest of the country no longer does? How did the Mexican annexation of a large region of the U.S. come about? How on earth did every country in the Middle East come together in the span of about fifty years (?!?!) to form a republic?

These are just a few of the questions American War left me with. Maybe they're not the point. But I can't help but to feel like a novel which goes to such great lengths to set the stage for this future-alternate history needs to be able to provide the reader with satisfactory answers.

My second issue with this book is that it's dull, tedious, and downright boring. If I hadn't been reading this for a book club, I would have strongly considered DNFing, which as you guys know, I never do. I just couldn't bring myself to care about Sarat, who felt more like a caricature than a well-developed character in her own right, or about the background characters who littered the narrative without much depth or individual personalities.

I was really disappointed by this book. I thought that a novel about a second American Civil War would be difficult to read because of what a realistic possibility it is, but American War was never able to convince me that it was anything other than highly imaginative fiction. Maybe I could have forgiven that if the plot or characters held my attention, but they didn't. It was such a relief to finish this.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books3,911 followers
December 14, 2017
This is a novel that hearkens back to the great days of serious and very dark future history, the kind that used be common in SF before it got taken over with fluffy (if dark) YA that is usually a lot more simple and caricature than serious.

So now we're back to the good and serious SF, no light tones here, and we fast forward to a history of America where its dominance in the world has sunk with a lot of its land, where ecological changes have turned the deserts into blasted lands, where politics has been turned upside-everywhere else thanks to the tail-end of the oil-energy crisis, and where plagues and war has ravaged America's soil.

A lot can happen in 70 years. This is what world-building is all about. Extrapolation, exploration, and detail, detail, detail. Akkad's writing is full of wonderful detail. Enough upheavals have altered the landscape of the world. China is dominant, as is a Northern-African alliance, but these details are just dressing to the real tale.

America is split between the blues and the reds, but the meaning of these are just as changed in another 70 years as they were 70 years ago from today. That's only realistic. What we have in this novel is a very Southern tale. It's not just mannerisms, but the kinds of things they find pride in, whether truth or lies. They're just standing up for what they believe in. In this case, oil. They're holding on to tradition and they've made this about identity, but what makes this a real cause isn't quite this narrative. Indeed, it's all about being abused and economics and especially poverty. Add plagues that have overextended an already hurting American Government and the result is massive areas of quarantines, angry and scared people. Add drones in the sky and angry bombers and refugee camps and it's no wonder that the war not only worsens but intensifies. Now there's more than real grudges at stake.

And our main character grows up in the lush world-building of the South during the early years as a kid and we see her grow from a courageous woman into one who's been broken by the system and then we see her get her final revenge. This is the main story. The world-building is absolutely fantastic, but the pain and the strength and the way she's broken and how she copes with it is the real treat.

I'm not saying it's easy or pleasant to put yourself in her shoes. It isn't. But it feels genuine. Seven years in a concentration camp in Georgia without due process and subject to torture nearly the entire time isn't exactly pleasing.

But it feels genuine. The whole novel feels genuine. Even the writing of the history of the civil war by this main character's nephew as a Future History is a wonderful detail, and he's one hell of an interesting guy, too.

A lot of these kinds of serious dystopias can feel like a dark warning, a cautionary tale, and those have a very fine tradition. This one avoids most of that. In fact, the tale is everything. Any kind of moral or ethical judgment we deem to take about the character's actions are entirely personal and not just a place for the author to soapbox. There's very little soapboxing here. Even the reasons for joining the Reds, the south, are purely personal. They stand up for what they think is right, even if they're wrong. At least they don't sugar coat and lie. It's a very southern attitude. That, and Don't Tread On Me. :)

In the end, I think this novel could be an anthem to that very idea even as it shows just how dark a path it can take.

What a delightful novel. Truly. Dark and very disturbing, too, but delightful nonetheless.
Profile Image for Ron Charles.
1,024 reviews48.4k followers
April 3, 2017
When you wade into the ever-agitated waters of social media, you realize just how quickly the currents of infectious bile are flowing. Follow the tributaries of today’s political combat a few decades into the future and you might arrive at something as terrifying as Omar El Akkad’s debut novel, “American War.” Across these scarred pages rages the clash that many of us are anxiously speculating about in the Trump era: a nation riven by irreconcilable ideologies, alienated by entrenched suspicions. But in El Akkad’s dystopian vision, those differences have led, once again, to secession and internecine warfare.

The mainspring of this imagined future clash is not race and slavery, but science and the environment. We learn that as climate change ravaged the Earth, intelligent societies abandoned fossil fuels, but the South clung to its peculiar institution and kept pumping, excavating and burning. As El Akkad tells it, that act of rebellion called down the North’s. . . .

To read the rest of this review, go to The Washington Post:
Profile Image for Ioana.
274 reviews341 followers
October 17, 2017
"Come here," she said.
I shook my head. "I'm scared."
"Good," she said. "Now you have something you can kill."

Fear. The ultimate driver of hate, bigotry, conflict, ultimately: of war. The emotion that pervades so much of our current geopolitical situation: the fear of our neighbor, of their religion, of their skin, of their seemingly foreign customs and traditions. Fear: perhaps the only emotion hardwired into the human condition, the underlying evolutionary mechanism that keeps us alive and perpetuates our species, that bids us to fight or flee.

American War is a powerful, devastating portrait of the world, some decades from now. And what makes it so potent and terrifying, is how plausible, how absolutely realistic El Akkad's conclusions about where we are heading sound. In this world, the United States is in turmoil: parts of the South have seceded after refusing a federal mandate to stop using fossil fuels; the coasts have been ravished by storms, while migration has wrecked havoc on inland cities; other parts of the South have been annexed by Mexico, while drought, wildfires, and disease have devastated the rest.

El Akkad builds this world carefully and attentively, but the world itself is not so much what the novel is about. Rather, American War attempts to answer the question, "How is someone radicalized into hate and into committing horrific terrorist acts in the name of this hate?" El Akkad's answer, the story of Sarat Chestnut, is shiver-inducing in its simplicity, and for the reason that it does not rely on ideology (including religion) to explain how someone could be transformed into an instrument of war. For Sarat is no ideologue; she does not fight for the South, for ideas - she exacts revenge on those who have caused her to fear.

What makes this novel especially terrifying is how the reader walks hand in hand with Sarat at every step of the way, from her relatively happy childhood: by the end of her story, the reader fully empathizes with her, and, dare I say it - may even understand Sarat's actions on a sub-cognitive, emotive plane. Not surprisingly, some have found American War too controversial for comment; also not surprisingly, it's been highly praised by critics, for indeed it is a true genius to induce such feelings in a reader.

This novel is a challenging read: it describes horrific scenes of torture, it dives deep into devastating loss, it offers no platitudes about love "winning" over hate in the end. It is certainly not for everyone. But, if this summary sounds intriguing to you in any way, if you're the kind of person who likes to face your/the world's demons head on and shriek at them in their face, I highly recommend American War.
Profile Image for Michael Ferro.
Author 2 books211 followers
February 22, 2018
Omar El Akkad's AMERICAN WAR is an often-chilling and devastatingly visceral peek into our country's future should we not find a peaceful way to resolve our political differences. Of particular interest in this novel for me was the defined sense of realism, despite being submerged in *obvious* dystopia; the new American Civil War feels incredibly real, the dejected southerners trained to become self-sacrificing martyrs are believable, and Akkad brings the horrors and desperations of an America fighting through its death rattle to life in many uncomfortable, but truly important ways.

There could not have been a better time for AMERICAN WAR to hit the shelves. 2017 and 2018 have been some of the most polarized in our history (the most polarized, in fact, since our country tore itself apart in the mid-1800s). Akkad, a well-seasoned journalist who knows conflict abroad has turned his sights on America, apparently in an effort to help us peer into our possible future should we not change our course, and the result is amazingly powerful.

AMERICAN WAR is destined to become an American classic, provided we have a future America left to hail it in...
Profile Image for Blaine.
729 reviews580 followers
May 2, 2021
They didn’t understand, they just didn’t understand. You fight the war with guns, you fight the peace with stories.
American War presents itself as the story of a future Second Civil War, in which a few Southern States again attempt to secede from the Union. But there’s not much war in this story. Moreover, the alleged cause of the rebellion—Southern resistance to a ban on fossil fuels after millions of people are displaced by rising sea levels—is absurd given the fact that the revolt happens after half of Florida is underwater, pretty well proving the truth of the “climate change is causing catastrophic damage” argument.

But the weakness of this backstory set-up is beside the point, as the book is really a thinly veiled retelling of what’s happening right now in the Middle East between the US Military and the militarily overmatched locals. The first half of the book is largely set in refugee camps, where we see the main character, a girl named Sarat, suffer losses and indignities until she is radicalized and recruited to fight against the North. In a later section, we see future Gitmo, right down to waterboarding and false confessions and the idea that such places do more harm than good.

Once you accept what the book is exploring, American War is quite effective. Sarat is a well-developed, rather original character. Her radicalization may be predictable, but it is still believable and compelling. The writing is strong (“[s]he wanted her to feel love, the way a bone feels a break”) and the pace consistently builds towards the climax. And the book certainly has much to say, not only about the US’s conduct of the War on Terror but, more sneakily, about our ongoing arguments about the actual Civil War and the myth of the “noble cause.”

American War isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty good, and it did grow on me as it went along. Recommended.
Profile Image for Brenda.
725 reviews150 followers
June 25, 2017
I’m giving up on this book at a little more than half way through. The premise of a dystopian world during and after a second American Civil War was interesting, and I was curious about the two maps shown before the Prologue. Set in the future beginning in 2074, the story centers on the Chestnut family and specifically on young Sara T, known as Sarat. The descriptions of their life and the environment in which they survived were mostly depressing, and the pace was slow in some places. The book wasn't satisfying my curiosity about the new world order as its focus narrowed to one person, and I lost interest.
Profile Image for Book of the Month.
229 reviews12.5k followers
April 1, 2017
American Horror Story
By Judge Maris Kreizman

Fair warning: American War is not a beach read. Not only because the novel is not fluffy and light, but also because it’s set in a near-future dystopia in which global warming has submerged the majority of America’s current coastlines. Spring Break forever? Not likely.

I hate to use the word “timely” nowadays, especially because I have a habit of making everything from Gilmore Girls to Fifty Shades of Grey about contemporary American politics. But if you’re looking for a thrilling read that’s way more fast-paced than the endless bickering in your Facebook feed, American War is scarily believable.

Here’s what we know about the state of the country in American War: In 2074, America (much smaller than it used to be due to climate change) enters its second Civil War: this time, the North and South face off because the South refuses to give up fossil fuel while the North relies solely on solar and wind energy. The war lasts for nearly twenty years, with unmanned drones and biological warfare and good old-fashioned terrorism making a ruins of the South. To find an anchor amidst all of this horror, American War is told through the lens of one girl’s experience as a Southern refugee. We follow along with Sarat Chestnut’s trials and watch as the war changes her in all of the terrible ways that war can.

World-building is difficult in novels like these, in which the author must catch the reader up on the mind-bending events of the past fifty or so years. But author Omar El Akkad uses an effective cheat: interspersed with Sarat’s story are excerpts from historical documents like newspaper stories and oral history outtakes and memoirs and diary entries that help us envision a specific time in history without too much other exposition.

This astonishing debut benefits from the author’s experience as a reporter who covered the Arab Spring and the Black Lives Matter movement, to military trials at Guantanamo Bay. He’s a writer who has recorded some of the ugliest moments in recent history, and yet manages to take these terrible building blocks and make something beautiful from them.

Not only are the big overarching plot points of the novel well-imagined, but El Akkad gets the small details right, too, mapping the cultural artifacts that stay with us even as the world burns: the Fiona Apple song that Sarat listens to in a quiet moment, an Alibaba T-shirt, now-exotic oranges, the copious amounts of blankets mailed by aid workers from other parts of the world. It’s these glimpses of humanity that ground us in our own cultural moment even as we tremble at the thought of what might come.

Read more at https://www.bookofthemonth.com/americ...
Profile Image for Helene Jeppesen.
685 reviews3,643 followers
June 5, 2017
4.5/5 stars.
This book was really good and really scary, and it came as a surprise to me how much I liked it. Not because I had heard bad things about it beforehand, but because I had a feeling that this book was either going to be too dark and sinister for my taste, or it would be just the right amount of dark and sinister as well as give me an interesting insight into what America could look like less than 100 years from now.
Basically, this book takes place in America in the 2070s-2090s, and America (as well as the rest of the world) is suffering from climate changes that have inondated a lot of the land and made it unhabitable.
However, this is not a book about the desvastation of the land, but it's a book about how people react under extreme stress and pressure. Living in this world is bearable, but instead of focusing their energy on creating new solutions to this new way of living, the Americans have turned crazy on each other and have started a new civil war because of power and land and fuel.
This aspect is what scared me the most, because sadly I think there's a lot of truth in it. We've seen it before with wars about power and possession, and it's not unimaginable that this could happen in a future world.
That being said, the ending of the book made me take my rating down half a star, because there is a limit as to how pessimistic I am when it comes to the human race. But this novel surprised me! It's well written, it provokes you and touches you, and it makes you appreciate the life we have right now a whole lot more.
Profile Image for Susie Wang.
Author 13 books48 followers
November 14, 2016
I wish I could give this book 10 stars out of five. I'd wished I could give it 10 stars from the prologue alone, and it got better and better.
Like I said in my updates, this book feels like more like a prophecy instead of a novel given what happened recently. I feel like the author truly knows war, and he understands the grudges some stubborn people seem to hold all their lives. Also he grasps the most horrifying thing about the war, that it destroys every single person's belief no matter what they stand for, and it nurtures whole generations of broken souls.
It was heartbreaking to read for so many reasons, because it was so well written it almost felt real, also because these things DO happen in real life. The narrator said that his burden is understanding, so I'm glad we readers can share that burden with him.
Again, I would recommend it to you if you're a US citizen, or you live in the US or just care about it. I would also recommend it to you if you care about humanity, about what we humans can become when we cease to understand what destruction stupid grudges can bring.
Profile Image for Celeste.
887 reviews2,332 followers
September 7, 2017
Full review now posted!

Sometimes, a book hits you at exactly the wrong moment. In my case, that’s exactly what happened with American War. My lack of love for this book is definitely a case of “it’s not you; it’s me,” and that is in large part due to the timing.

This was a very good book objectively. It was beautifully written, well-researched, poignant, and plausible. But subjectively, I couldn’t get far enough past the sadness that said plausibility invoked within me to enjoy anything about the book. The plot was heavy stuff, and wasn’t meant to be enjoyed. But even in horribly sad books, I can usually find something to appreciate, whether that’s the prose, the characterization, the setting, or even the cautionary tale being presented. I just couldn’t do that with this book.

There is so much going on in America right now. I started reading this book about two days before Hurricane Harvey made landfall, and was unable to pick it up again until the worst of it was past. My state has been decimated by hurricanes in the past, and watching that happen to our neighbor to the west was heartbreaking. (My thoughts and prayers are still with those Texans whose lives were forever altered by the storm.) In the future put forth by the author in American War, our coastline has been radically altered by hurricanes. Almost a third of Louisiana is underwater by the year 2075, and many other seaport cities along the coast have sank beneath the waves. And that’s just the setting. Can you see why this was hard for me to read when I picked it up?

While the storms are wreaking havoc on American soil, that’s not the end of our issues. There is so much infighting within these “United States” at the moment that a second Civil War doesn’t seem that impossible. Reading a book about a second American Civil War while our nation is so divided wasn’t a good move on my part. It’s hard enough maintaining optimism without adding such a plausible picture of a future war-torn America to the visions already plaguing my mind. Our strength is in our unity, and without that unity we will fall. I wish that we as Americans could love one another more than we hate any opinion that opposes our own. And I have faith that with God, anything is possible. But things look bleak, and I didn’t need the bleakness of this book added on top of that.

I just picked up this book at exactly the wrong moment. It’s not the book’s fault. This was a well-written look at a possible future for America if we can’t learn to forgive and live and let live. I can’t give it less than three stars, because it was excellently written and Sarat was a heartbreaking character. But I can’t give it more than three stars because it broke my heart and gave me no balm for the wound. Please understand that this is a highly subjective rating, and that I’m not trying to deter anyone from reading the book. But if you do decide to read American War, prepare your mind for a story that’s sad and almost unrelievingly bleak. May the prophecy held within these pages never come to pass, and may God bless America.

Original review can be found at Booknest.
Profile Image for Scott.
290 reviews295 followers
December 4, 2017
Could the United States tear itself apart in another bloody Civil War? Could the catalyst for such a conflict could be a threat to the god-given liberty of red state Americans to drive gas-guzzling pickups - the inalienable constitutional right to bear Chevrolets?

Omar El Akkad thinks so, and based on this scenario he has produced American War - a fictional history of the second American Civil War to come.

American War is an interesting blend of ideas. It's part future history, like Robert Charles Wilson's Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America and part post-climate change
dystopia, like Paolo Bacigalupi's The Water Knife, with a civil war thrown in for extra spice.

The story is narrated by Benjamin Chestnut, an older man living in the safe haven of neutral Anchorage after the war. The drama he details is gripping.

In the 2070s, climate change has wrecked the coastal United States. New Orleans is gone. The government has abandoned Washington for Columbus Ohio to escape the shattering storms now hitting D.C. Mexico has re-conquered large sections of the south from California to Texas. The era of US global dominance has come to an end and new hegemons are rising, particularly the Bauzizi empire, which encompasses the Middle East and North Africa and has a direct interest in ensuring the fratricidal conflict in the U.S bleeds its rival for as long as possible.

In a belated effort to address emissions the feds ban the use of fossil fuels, enraging the Southern states who still have access to large reservoirs of cheap gasoline. The Southern states of Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia (The MAG) decide that the Gawdammn Guvmint can prise their muscle cars from their cold, dead hands and attempt to secede as the Free Southern States- the FSS.

So begins a bitter, brutal conflict. Drones bomb southern targets. Southern bombers assassinate the US president. Militias spring up on both sides, committing war crimes in the name of patriotism. South Carolina, originally part of the revolt, is destroyed by and engineered plague released by the North, and the entire area has been sealed off from the rest of the union.

In amongst this chaos and destruction the story centres on Sarat Chestnut (Benjamin’s aunt), a young girl whose family is torn by conflict and driven from their land into refugee-hood. We follow as Sarat grows into a woman, as she is radicallised by the actions of the hated Blues, and recruited to the Southern cause. She becomes a powerful tool for the Southern cause, and her actions drastically change both the war, and the peace that follows it.

El Akkad writes well, and vibrantly evokes the heat and humidity of the South, along with a very plausible post-climate change America that is far less than it once was. There are some nice touches- El Akkad mentions refugees fleeing from a now-decrepit Europe to North Africa in search of better opportunities which is an interesting reversal of present day trends, and convincingly shows southerners using old muscle cars as a symbol of their culture (one particularly cute image is of a group of southern patriots standing around a barbecue built into the engine cavity of a rusting old Chevy).

There are flaws here too, however and the story does have a few head-scratching ideas in it - such as the Mexican Reconquista of the southern US. This seemed a touch unlikely – today’s cartel-riven Mexico is pretty messed up and even in decline the US military is likely to remain dominant in North America. Furthermore the north of Mexico is likely to face very severe drought as climate change sets in - I'm not entirely convinced that the Mexicans would want more drought crippled land in California and Texas.

There’s also a later section of the story that dwells a little too long for my liking on the mistreatment of a character in a Guantanamo-like situation, although the degradations the character experiences do have a plausible bearing on the narrative.

Yet, despite a few moments where your suspension of disbelief may falter, El Akkad's book is an interesting and engrossing read. It’s a compelling story of what pain and hatred can do to both a nation and a person, and how twisted their viewpoints and actions can become.

Luckily for us it is inconceivable that Americans would kill each other to keep driving pickups while today's level headed politicians work to bring the nation togeth…

Actually, come to think of it, maybe El Akkad’s scenario isn’t that far-fetched.

3.5 stars.
Profile Image for Book Riot Community.
953 reviews108k followers
July 5, 2017
How does this sound: this book is like if Jesamyn Ward wrote The Road. Still need convincing? American War is the story of the second American Civil War, a war that breaks out in 2074 over the use of oil. Now, the North and South are once more divided, Texas has become a part of Mexico again, and China is the the most powerful nation in the world. Sarat is a young girl in Louisiana when the war begins, but when her father is killed, she and her family are moved to a camp for displaced persons. There she sees firsthand what the war does to people, and under the influence of a recruiter, makes a deadly decision about her part in the war. This is one of the most powerful debuts I’ve ever read, and it’s visceral and scary, too, because, as the author said in an interview, “I don’t think there’s much in this book that hasn’t happened; it just happened far away.”

— Liberty Hardy

from The Best Books We Read In April 2017: http://bookriot.com/2017/05/01/riot-r...
Profile Image for Justine.
1,112 reviews301 followers
May 16, 2020
4.5 stars - and going on my favourites-2020 shelf because I continued to ponder this book months after reading it.

A stunning and gut wrenching portrait of war and the commonality of the human experience. This book is difficult to read, as we see how a child ultimately grows into an instrument of terror. The fictional horrors visited upon Sarat throughout the course of her relatively short life are, unfortunately, all incidents that have their origins in actual events.

I was so impressed by the author's writing. I realise he is an experienced and decorated journalist, but his novel writing skill is absolutely evident here. It isn't what I would call poetic, but it certainly is evocative, easily rendering itself in three dimensional images in the mind of the reader.

The ending is no surprise, as it is set up right from the outset. Even so, I could not help but keep hoping to the last it would somehow be a different one. Not only for the people of that fictional world, but for Sarat herself.

[T]he misery of war represented the world's only truly universal language. Its native speakers occupied different ends of the world, and the prayers they recited were not the same and the empty superstitions to which they clung so dearly were not the same--and yet they were. War broke them in the same way, made them scared and angry and vengeful the same way. In times of peace and good fortune they were nothing alike, but stripped of these things they were kin. The universal slogan of war, she'd learned, was simple: If it had been you, you'd have done no different.

On a personal note, I noticed several reviewers expressed some disbelief that people would get so worked up over the issue of banning the use of fossil fuels (the basis of the initial conflict between the Northern and Southern US states in this book). Honestly, I believe it. I drive an electric car (yes, for environmental reasons), and I can tell you that there are so many people out there who are incredibly angry and rude both in their actions and in expressing their opinions on the very idea that they too might one day be expected to drive one. One person's decision to drive an electric car certainly doesn't affect them personally at all, but you would never know it. (And seriously, if you are an electric car sceptic, you should try one! They are an amazingly nice drive.)

I don't have to use much imagination to believe people can become incredibly violent over the issue of banning fossil fuels, particularly if they perceive it to have any effect on their jobs or local economy (people generally do not do well with change of any kind), because I already see it starting to happen. Climate change and what to do about it is an emotional and divisive issue for people, of that there is no doubt.
Profile Image for Lauren .
1,700 reviews2,298 followers
February 7, 2020
I read AMERICAN WAR by Omar El Akkad in 2017, just after its release date. When one of my IRL book clubs selected it for last month's read, I revisited portions of the text to recall names and sequence of events, delved into critical reviews, and some author interviews. Not quite a full reread, but a re-immersion into the life of Sarat Chesnut and her deeds in a future/fictionalised (?) late 21st-century.

We met last Monday for our discussion, and this book - about a near-future American South tattered by climate change, political unrest and war, disease, and the 'birth' of a home-grown insurgent - lead to a lively discussion and many great trains of thought by my friends in the group.

Like the first time I read this one, I was very impressed with El Akkad's breadth and his writing style, especially in a debut novel.

I also came away from this reading with much more context as to WHY and HOW this story shaped in the author's mind. El Akkad's own background of movement between Egypt, Qatar, Canada, the US, his work as a journalist for The Globe and Mail in Afghanistan and Guantanamo, Cuba was a key to understanding the complexities of this book.

El Akkad did a fantastic short TEDTalk (you can find on YT, only 15 minutes) discussing his work in context of the book. The talk is chocked full of amazing insights. Some quotes that stood out to me:

"There is no such thing as a 'foreign kind of suffering'. We all relate to injustice the same way. Some of us just have the privilege to believe otherwise."

"Forgetting is a form of violence. It's a violence against reality and any place that commits violence against reality commits violence against itself."
Profile Image for Greg.
1,107 reviews1,829 followers
July 22, 2017
I was torn between three and four stars here. I was torn the same way with the small press book Ruin Season, when I read it last week. That one I went up to four and this one I went down to three. In so many ways this is probably a better novel, but since it's published by Random House, and it has lots of other reviews / ratings, I don't feel like I should be boosting up my rating to help the book out, or at least not feel like as much of an asshole.

I thought the book was quite good. The premise is that towards the middle of the 21st Century a second Civil War breaks out when fossil fuels are banned and a small group of Southern States try to break away from the Union. The world where this war takes place is teetering on the verge of total ecological disaster, you know because of overuse of fossil fuels. The coastlines have been re-drawn. Washington DC has been given up as lost and the capital has been moved to Columbus, Ohio. New Orleans is gone. I think Florida is mostly a sea. Lots of alarming changes... but in the books world-building it is a train accident carrying oil that creates a mini-ecological disaster in I think Montana (or one of those states around there, stupid brain) that heralds in the banning of fossil fuels. This to me seemed completely absurd, but in its total absurdity there was a believability that it would take something like a minor (on a large scale) accident to spur the government to take drastic measures, when something like losing Washington DC, New Orleans and Florida to rising waters wouldn't make this sort of thing a necessity.

The novel is framed by a historian telling the story of one woman Sara T. Chestnutt's experience growing up during the war. As a child she was confused a bit about her name so she took to calling herself Sarat, giving her a sort of Middle East connotation. The historian is telling the story after the War and a subsequent plague that killed over a hundred million people has ended.

The reader follows Sarat as a little girl living in Louisana and her coming of age in refugee camp. And while this novel is on the surface a sort of dystopian look at what could happen in our country, I read it mostly as a metaphor for the wars in the Middle East.

Actually, now that I'm thinking of it some of my 'problems' aren't really problems at all if the book is read a critique of the way America has handled foreign policy in the Middle East (you know waged war) for over the past two decades (kind of political aside in spoiler tag.).

My biggest problem with the book (not taking it as a metaphor for the Gulf Wars) was it was too short. The tough part I think of writing a book like this is to do all the necessary world building, and the proper amount of character development, and create an engaging story. This is why a lot of SF/Fantasy novels take volumes to tell their story.

When I was about half-way done with the book Karen asked me if it was any good, and my answer was, "I don't know"?... and I tried to backtrack and say that I was enjoying it, and it was good, but the problem was I didn't feel like much had happened yet, that it had all been part of setting up the world. But this wasn't exactly true, some stuff had happened, but the pacing felt weird like there had been a lot of set up going on and a dwindling number of pages to give me the payoff of the setup.

A book like Station Eleven feels bigger than the shortness of the actual book. She created something amazing in that book that felt satisfying even though I have a feeling everyone who read it wanted more of a particular story line. I'm not sure how she pulled off making a satisfying novel background needing to be established and the number of characters and stories she used and still managed to get it all to work in under 300 pages. Emily St. John Mandel, blurbs the front cover of this book, so every time I picked up the book I was reminded of her and maybe unfairly would compare this book to hers.

I feel like American War didn't pull off the magic trick of balancing all these elements in a satisfying manner. I wanted more of something from the novel. More of Sarat's story, or more of the background which is hinted at in the narrative and documentary materials between chapters. Or more action. Sarat being almost the singular focus of the book never came alive for me, but she wasn't distant enough to create a strong sense of the unknowable other.... this makes sense somewhere in my head but I can't figure out how to explain it.

Ignore my criticisms though, the novel is good. I'm nitpicking, but just because I feel like it's so close to being a great novel, but just misses the mark a bit. I'm definitely interested in seeing what else Omar El Akkad has to offer in future novels.
Profile Image for Campbell Andrews.
406 reviews73 followers
April 7, 2017
They should subtitle this book IT COULD HAPPEN HERE!!, emblazoned in big red letters on a sash wrapped and affixed with a blood-red seal. The author can regale MSNBC and NPR with his Nostradamus vision while book clubs queue at signings, clutching their pearls in one hand and cupping lattes in the other.

(My first thought, on picking up the book, was Why has no one written this yet? It will be a bestseller and have its rights optioned, posthaste.)

The author has no doubt witnessed and can testify to horrors we’ve had yet to have visited upon us in the U.S.; there is also no question that, as a nation, what we have sown we will reap. But as much as we now see and fear an uncertain future, fiction demands its depiction be not so foregone; so rote a litany of cruelty, violence and misfortune is desensitizing in a way that may actually be true to life but in a book is just deadly boring.

The author attempts a cross-section of the conflict much as in Max Brooks’ World War Z but, unlike that work of science-fiction, adhering to a dour realism gives Mr. El Akkad no space for imagination, delight, or surprise. The narrative lurches and sputters, whole eras and time periods elided; the 'documentation' peppering the novel wants to provide the appearance of authenticity but more muddles and obfuscates. What it all produces, finally, is a topical testament to contemporary fears: a dire tract, a warning shot across the bow of a presumed Titanic. American War is to our time as On The Beach was to the late 50’s. (One assumes Mr. El Akkad would love to be wrong as much as Mr. Shute was.)

It takes very little insight to imagine the terrible, and is even less charitable to supply the reader with a diet made up of despair. At its worst, the novel comes across as a preemptive chastisement, penance for our collective sins. At its best, American War seems to exist mainly to move its ever-decreasing cast of characters from one atrocity to another.
Profile Image for Trish.
1,352 reviews2,396 followers
Shelved as 'put-aside'
May 24, 2017
Gave up, folks. This doesn't mean it's a bad book. It means I just couldn't...it's a mix of YA, sci fi, dystopian, looking at the U.S. after an event that destroyed part of it. There is constant war between the North and the South. It was interesting to see what someone else thought were our nation's weak points and our strengths. There is just so much going on in real life right now that is more gripping than any fiction. I am sure readership of fiction has gone down: someone will come up with statistics on this phenomenon soon.
Profile Image for Thomas.
1,426 reviews8,333 followers
March 8, 2023
I think this book did a great job of highlighting the horrible consequences of war. Seeing our main character Sarat develop some form of post-traumatic stress disorder as well as her desire for vengeance felt devastating. I appreciate Omar El Akkad showing some glimpse of hope for her and her healing at the end of the novel. While American War is bleak throughout, I can’t blame it too much for that because war is bleak and awful.

Unfortunately I agree with Rachel’s review that the book feels “dull” and “tedious.” I don’t want to be mean but the prose felt flat and even though a lot of intense, jarring events occur in this novel I didn’t get emotionally invested. I also don’t think the author explained in convincing enough detail how this particular dystopian society came about; the novel focuses on the present-day atrocities at the expense of a more fleshed-out backstory that would’ve helped make its social commentary more impactful.

I heard about this novel through an episode of the Throughline podcast from NPR though overall wouldn’t necessarily recommend it.
Profile Image for Carlos.
588 reviews288 followers
August 15, 2017
This was a 2.75 or 2.50 stars book for me mostly. First of all I never understood the plot of the book and then I realized is because there is none . The book goes back and forward and tells you how the story is going to end from the beginning and then it takes you forward, then backward and forward again, we never connected with the main character and her plight because the book doesn't explore the circumstances that made the world the characters live possible , and you also never get a cohesive set of events to make the time jumps in the story coherent. All in all I think the author went for gold but earned only a copper medal, all because he worried more on the "possibility " of the scenario he put forward in our times rather than focusing on writing a good and well connected story. A disappointment for me .
Profile Image for Auntie Terror.
412 reviews102 followers
April 23, 2020
Well, this was... underwhelming.

Where do I start...
As I didn't read the English original but listened to the German audiobook, I don't feel able to criticize the language as such. Criticism there might always be due to poor translation.
What is definitely on the author himself, though, is the (lack of) character depth and development in basically all of the cardboard cut-outs populating this novel and the lack of both "innovation" and progress in the society he "builts". The more adequate word would be "pieces together from newspaper clippings and history books".
His version of the near-future is a re-run of the American Civil War with some more recent types of war crimes and some climate change effects added for shock value. All these things remain sadly decorational, I felt. The author couldn't even be bothered to invent any technical progress, or any new political power dynamics in a way that contained more than making the US the receiving end of destabelization now.
The characters, as mentioned before, felt extremely flat. The main character was one of the worst attempts at (I'm guessing here) hardened kick-ass female anti-hero that I've seen in some time. A clichee in any way possible - a slightly aggressive tomboy in behaviour, not attractive bordering on ugly and "unfeminine"/"manly" in looks, and, to complete clichee bingo, lesbian with extremely short hair. Still, she couldn't put two and two together but for the help of a manipulative older man who turned her into a tool. The reader gets to see her whole life as a chain of cause and effect, all outwardly induced. And I as a reader couldn't even be bothered to feel anything for her. I spent about fourteen hours listening to what should have been a devastating example of what war, loss, misinformation and general cruelty can do to a person - and it did nothing.

I later read that the author is a political journalist and that this is his first novel. Well. That at least explains some of what felt off. You don't get character development and fictitious embellishment in reports (and really you shouldn't). But then, fictional texts can profit greatly from both while still offering relevant criticism on the real world. As novels tend to be longer than articles or arctile series in newspapers, you also don't have to be as direct and on the nose with what you want the reader to understand. Subtlety often does work better than patronizing readers of fiction opinionwise.

Not all people can produce both kinds of texts, fictitious and "realistic", in the same quality, though. And had I not had this book as an audiobook, I wouldn't have finished it.
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