Have you ever had a book reach into you and kind of freak you out? I had read Between Shade of Gray last month and while sad and slightly repulsive (seriously, how did people do that sort of thing?), American War by Omar El Akkad goes to a whole new level. Set in the near future in America at civil war, you see the darkness of humanity. Keep reading for my full American War review.
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Goodreads summary of American War:
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 was lucky enough to get an advance copy of American War by Omar El Akkad from Book of the Month club since it is one of the picks for April. There are several great choices in April. Don’t forget, you can get a 1-month subscription for just $5. Or if you can get a 3 month subscription for just $9.99 a month!
American War review
The America as we know it is gone. Global warming has caused the coastlines to disappear and the entire country to contract. But when the North decides to declare the use of fossil fuels as illegal, the South revolts. A second Civil War begins. All the while, a new empire that extends throughout the Middle East and more is consolidating its power and control of the world. That is the setting of American War. But we follow just a small part of this, the Chestnut family, specifically, Sarat.
The Chestnut family is eking out a living in Louisiana but the parents want more for their children. When the father goes to get a work permit to go North, he is killed by a suicide bomber. This action transforms the Chestnut family. As the war gets closer to their home, the mother decides to take a chance and move her and the children to a camp. This is the setting that Sarat grew up in and molded her into what she grew up to be.
In the camp, Sarat is recruited by an unknown entity and is eventually molded into a person of war. While she refuses to become a suicide bomber because of her family, she has other uses. Her biggest get turns the tide of the civil war and changes her life in a way she never expected.
American War is told in pieces. We hear a bits and pieces from Benjamin, Sarat’s nephew. But we are submersed in Sarat’s viewpoint for most of the story. We also have excerpts of government reports throughout that gives the viewpoint of the North.
What American War truly does is show the inhumanity of war. There is always some group that is repressed and sometimes decimated in war. Doesn’t matter what war, it happens. But it is also more than that. It is the politicking by the elite that leaves the regular person in the dust. It is people (and governments) taking advantage of downtrodden people to get the end-point that they want, regardless of the consequences. That is what American War is about.
There are many different characters throughout the story, but it circles around Sarat. In most books, you either can connect or feel for the main character. But Sarat is difficult to connect to. She is cold. But you also see how she was molded into this cold, almost inhuman person. You almost end up feeling just pity for her. Because there are really no other emotions for her. The remaining characters are a little cliche but their roles are necessary. The one secondary character that I enjoyed the most is Joe. His candid conversation with Sarah towards the end of the book I think really portrays the book in just one conversation.
Overall American War review:
If you are intrigued by war and what it does to a population, pick this book up. It has a different perspective compared to most, but that is what makes it strong. Even if the characters are a little flat, the entire book should be read by many.
3.5 out of 5 stars