Set in an alternate future in which a new and merciless civil war has torn the United States in two, Omar El Akkad’s engrossing fable American War explores the repercussions of the brutal conflict refracted through three generations of one family. It’s an impressive and effective gambit, which, because of the quality and economy of Akkad’s writing, delivers a convincing and epic near-apocalyptic tale without feeling the need to launch another interminable multi-book series.
The intricately plotted American War explores how an attempted prohibition on the use of eco-toxic fossil fuels has split the nation, pitting a resentful gas-guzzling South against an implacably green North. With events threatening to slide into stalemate, both sides commit war crimes as the machinery of civilisation unravels and displaced refugees seek temporary solace away from the front line.
It’s possible to read the political context of American War as the stuff of future fantasy or as a series of keenly judged reflections on the present-day, real-world geopolitics of North American, post-Soviet Europe and the Middle East. That said, what brings Akkad’s story of heroism, resilience and barbarism to life is the vitality of the characters that populate the novel.
The book pivots on the life story of Sarat, a rather awkward Southern girl struggling to find her identity as her family endures a series of cruel losses and personal calamities as a result of the war. Equipped with a steely determination, Sarat grows into a young woman determined to fight for the causes of her kith and kin. She then makes a series of fateful decisions with far-reaching consequences for the war’s outcome. As the perspective shifts between generations, the narrative is interspersed with official documents and transcripts, which report on decisive military and political events that are little more than myth and folklore to the book’s protagonists.
Infused with an equal sense of melancholy and of warmth, American War deals with questions of injustice, inhumanity, savagery and revenge and of decency, family, forgiveness and redemption. Haunting and affecting, this comes highly recommended.
AMERICAN WAR / AUTHOR: OMAR EL AKKAD / PUBLISHER: ALFRED A KNOPF / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW