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American War: A novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 4, 2017
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An Amazon Best Book of April 2017: American War will give you chills. Set in in 2075, Omar El Akkad's debut presents a fractured and frightening America, where the sun burns hot and the country has turned into war zones and refugee camps. Over the course of two decades, Akkad traces the fate of the Chestnut family, who flee their home in the south and spend the better part of their lives in a sprawling, impoverished encampment. This is where Sarat, a young, brave, tomboy, comes of age: “Perhaps the longing for safety was itself just another kind of violence—a violence of cowardice, silence, submission. What was safety, anyway, but the sound of a bomb falling on someone else’s home?” Albert Gaines, a radicalized Southerner, takes Sarat under his wing, equipping her with the fervor and tactics needed to win the war. Akkad piercingly describes the ravaged towns, the gel packets of fruit rations, the torturous effects of growing up in war. Written with precise care for the fictional truth—news articles, press releases, and oral histories emerge throughout – the book sounds a warning blast. American War is a disquieting novel of immense depth, and possibly a classic of our time. --Al Woodworth, The Amazon Book Review
From School Library Journal
Benjamin Chestnut, a historian of the Second U.S. Civil War (2075–93), chronicles the life and times of his aunt Sarat. When he first meets her, she is a stoop-backed woman who hides in the shed behind his house, sleeps on the floor, and speaks to no one. When readers first meet her, she is a feisty six-year-old, ready to take on the world. And what a world it is: climate change has created sea rise that wiped out both U.S. coasts for miles inland, and searing heat burns the soil so that food must be brought in from foreign shores. Sarat is caught in the middle of a burgeoning war between the states, based on Northern demands that the South give up fossil fuels. This hardship breeds resentment, and violence seeps into Sarat's life. The girl's mother insists they leave their home in Louisiana for points north, but they make it only as far as the refugee camp at the border of the northernmost Southern state. Here, Sarat learns her cultural history from those who recruit her to serve the South. Interspersing the work with news, government reports, and interviews, Benjamin describes Sarat's growing resistance, willingness to fight fiercely, and subsequent capture and torture. Twenty years later, when Benjamin meets her, she is broken but unrepentant; Sarat serves up one last horrible act of revenge to ensure victory for the South. VERDICT Give this fascinating, terrifying dystopian novel to mature or politically or environmentally minded teens, who will undoubtedly connect events in 2017 with those of the 2070s.—Connie Williams, Petaluma High School, CAl
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The Second American Civil War isn't fought over race (these Americans appear to mostly be over racial hangups) but power... specifically, fossil fuels.
The ascendant world powers are Asian and Muslim. In this future, the Muslim "Bouazizi Empire" got popular revolution right on the fifth try, and the Red Crescent is running the refugee camps in the Free Southern States.
And we meet Sarat, the protagonist of the book, at age 6, in a Louisiana that's mostly underwater, as her parents are starting to talk about getting work permits to move North.
The book is a study of how terrorists are made, and the arc of Sarat's life, from atrocities in the refugee camp her family fled to, to her recruitment, her successful missions, her capture and torture, and ultimately her awful revenge, have many real-world parallels that aren't too hard to spot, or intended to be.
Still, the book is deft, entertaining, and provocative. The central conceit of the book can be found in these lines given to Karina, a nurse who emigrated to the US from what was left of Bangladesh after the seas rose:
"...the 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 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."
I ripped through this in three days, reading an hour or so longer a night than I had really intended to. Haven't picked up a piece of fiction that I didn't want to put down in a while.
Sarat's story is of her gradual transformation from a headstrong young woman to something more fearful. Dark and malevolent characters surround and act upon her.
In the end the reader is left with a bleak vision of our future. Rather than hearing an inspiring message that if we only get serious and start paying attention we will make it through these uncertain times, I finished my reading of this book concluding that this is all beyond us and that a grim fate awaits.
The writing is clear, well phrased, and convincing, especially from a new writer. The editing was excellent. The plot was creative and the characters and their dialogue credible. I just wished that I hadn't finished this book in the middle of the night.
This is one of those rare books (especially for me since I don't read much fiction) that grabs you by your lapels and continues to entrance you long after you have read it. It is strangely poignant and even moving, even though the setting is horrible brutality and destruction. The only other book that so got a grip on me that I recall is Elizabeth Gilbert's "The Signature of All Things" (that one kept me restless for months). The central character, Sarat, we follow from age six in an America almost completely remade into new designated areas: the U.S. or blues with capital in Columbus, Ohio; the Free Southern State (FSS); and the Mexican Protectorate. The story begins in 2075 and continues until 2095 set mostly in the FSS. The displaced family's travails--and there are many--are the central focus of the story--but it is always Sarat who is front and center and evolving.
The author uses several devices to keep the story on track: for example, he incorporates various official and private documents which fill out the story and provide a context for what is befalling Sarat. As she grows into new dimensions, she becomes even more fascinating as a character. This climaxes in the final section of the book (pp. 263-333) which is one of the most gripping narratives I can ever recall reading; this is where I found this strange book to be even moving as I read it. But the violence only increases geometrically to an unbelievable conclusion, even as our respect for Sarat grows. Wow!
I have purposely not included hopefully any tip-offs to the story line in detail. This novel is so skillfully constructed that revealing even one secret might cause the whole thing to come undone. The enjoyment lies in reading a book not knowing where you will come out, except with the adult Sarat. The writing is just superior. I recommend it without hesitation, though the violence level is high. But don't forget to reread the prologue when you are done--I guarantee your emotional temperature will go up many degrees.