I have to be honest; when I read a book and find it exceedingly uninteresting during the first one hundred pages, I give up and move on. However, I was pretty proud that I did not give up on this one. We held on Omar El Akkad!
American War was written by Egyptian author Omar El Akkad, and was published in 2017. This was a fairly new dystopian fiction with an interesting concept of a second Civil War in the United States.
The story follows Sarat Chestnut and her family, all born in Louisiana. Sarat 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.
This was me going into the first 200 pages of the novel: “Oh my god!” I exclaimed with annoyance, as I miserably forced myself to continue reading.
This was me during the last couple hundred pages of the novel: “Oh my god…” I whispered with disbelief as I continued to learn more.
Yes, the beginning was tedious. It was dull. It felt like I was reading a biography about the entire state of a new America. Except, I pushed through all the uneventful exposition and melodramatic dialogue to final get the to the juicy parts of the novel. And it was worth it.
It’s an action-packed and horrifying dystopian novel, but also feels very messy with the timeline. We are following the story through the eyes of Sarat from six-years old to adulthood. I admit that Sarat was an interesting tragic character, but sometimes it was hard to sympathize with her since her personality was flat most of the novel (no spoilers). I like to read about characters who are a bit more interesting than having some predictable personality I can’t relate to.
But after the first 200 pages, and finally getting rewarded with some interesting plots, I could almost forgive El Akkad for the lack of character development. If there’s one thing I can say about the novel is that it’s mature for a dystopian story.
There are no love-triangles, the side-characters feel human, and decisions that are made also seem realistic with unpredictable consequences that had me at the edge of my seat.
The war-time part of the story was amazing, and it instantly changed my attitude towards the novel immediately. I wanted to see how El Akkad would finish off his story and I have to say; the ending was definitely satisfying.
One thing I appreciate in this book was the implicit warning about the coming environmental crises on both coasts of the US. With the world and climate changing drastically, El Akkad did an excellent job to show how America would be many years to come. Overall, it’s a dark, action-backed dystopian novel that should be read by mature readers.