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.
Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language; Discrimination; War; Violence; Mild sexual themes; Alcohol; Description of torture
Booklist starred (February 15, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 12))
In 2074, the American South has once again attempted to secede from the Union, this time in ferocious opposition to the Sustainable Future Act, even as the ravages of global warming—severe storms, prolonged drought, and a massive rise in sea levels— cause waves of coastal refugees to pour into the Midwest as the federal government abandons deluged Washington, D.C., for Columbus, Ohio. The Chestnuts are getting by, living in an old shipping container in Louisiana, until Benjamin is killed in a bombing. Martina flees to a Mississippi refugee camp with her soon-to-be-rebel son, Simon, and twin daughters, fair and pretty Dana and dark, curious, and intrepid Sarat, the focus of this vigorously well-informed, daringly provocative speculative first novel by an Egyptian-born Canadian journalist. As Sarat grows into a six-foot-five, shaved-head warrior, she is radicalized by agents of a new Middle Eastern and North African superpower, the Bouazizi Empire. The war between Red and Blue is further compounded by raging plagues, while captured insurrectionists are tortured in a domestic Guantánamo. Catalyzed by his reporting on the Arab Spring; the war in Afghanistan; racial violence in Ferguson, Missouri; and environmental disasters, El Akkad has created a brilliantly well-crafted, profoundly shattering saga of one family’s suffering in a world of brutal power struggles, terrorism, ignorance, and vengeance. American War is a gripping, unsparing, and essential novel for dangerously contentious times.
Kirkus Reviews (February 1, 2017)
A dystopian vision of a future United States undone by civil war and plague.El Akkad’s debut novel is set during the tail end of the 21st century, with the North and South at it again. Southern states have taken up arms to protest a Northern ban on fossil fuels, and the war-torn secessionist “Mag” (Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia) has forced civilians to herd in refugee camps. (South Carolina, attacked by a weaponized virus, is “a walled hospice.”) Among the refugees is Sarat, who as a young girl in 2075 escaped a much-diminished Louisiana (climate change has swallowed the coasts) with her family to what seems like an endless occupation. But in the years tracked by the novel, Sarat becomes a daring young woman who leads a resistance against the Northern military. El Akkad, a journalist who’s reported from hot spots in the war on terror, has a knack for the language of officialdom: news reports, speeches, history books, and the like that provide background for the various catastrophes that have befallen the country. And he’s cannily imagined Sarat, who is at once a caring daughter and sibling, freedom fighter, and sponge for the wisdom of one old-timer who dispenses tales about occupations decades past. But above all, El Akkad’s novel is an allegory about present-day military occupation, from drone strikes to suicide bombers to camps full of refugees holding “keys to houses that no longer existed in towns long ago deserted.” He imagines this society in some creative ways: battles royal are major entertainments in an internet-free society, and Sarat’s brother becomes an interesting and peculiar folk hero after he’s injured. But El Akkad mainly means to argue that these future miseries exist now overseas. A well-imagined if somber window into social collapse.
About the Author
Omar was born in Cairo, Egypt and grew up in Doha, Qatar until he moved to Canada with his family. He is an award-winning journalist and author who has traveled around the world to cover many of the most important news stories of the last decade. His reporting includes dispatches from the NATO-led war in Afghanistan, the military trials at Guantànamo Bay, the Arab Spring revolution in Egypt and the Black Lives Matter movement in Ferguson, Missouri. He is a recipient of Canada’s National Newspaper Award for investigative reporting and the Goff Penny Memorial Prize for Young Canadian Journalists, as well as three National Magazine Award honorable mentions. He lives in Portland, Oregon.
His website is www.omarelakkad.com
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