Omar El Akkad – American War


Omar El Akkad’s debut novel, American War, created some mixed reactions within me. I like the ideas the book brings forth but other than that I had some reservations.

American War is a dystopian novel, it takes place in 2075 where America is divided. Due to a banning of fossil fuels, the southern area of the U.S. want to separate from the north, thus creating a second civil war, to make things worse when America is reunited in 2094 someone releases a virus that causes a ten year long plague. This is an age where the south is flooded and only depends on rainwater and sunshine for subsistence.

So far so good.

The story focuses on Sarat Chestnut, within the book we follow her journey from her house to a camp, how she gains knowledge from the camp intellectual,  the killing of her father, sister and mother, then her release only to be recaptured and taken to a prison island. The last third of the book is narrated by her nephew, the son of her surviving brother. Other than the main story each chapter ends with artifacts detailing with aspects of the second civil war.

El Akkad’s picture of a desolate, flooded war-torn US is terrifying and on this aspect he succeeds. I enjoyed reading how the characters coped with the circumstances and the sheer awfulness of US 2075 but, unfortunately I found a lot of it dull reading, only picking up when Sarat’s nephew takes charge of the narrative. Do not get me wrong, American War is a well structured novel. All subplots and details fit nicely into each other but, I admit that at times it was a bit difficult to be fully invested in the narrative. Saying that I am quite interested in what El Akkad will do next, judging by American War, I am sure that there are more creative ideas flowing about.