Sunday, 22 March 2020

American War by Omar El Akkad

American War by Omar El Akkad
Published by Alfred A Knopf in April 2017.

How I got this book:
Bought the ebook from Amazon

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

2074. America's future is Civil War. Sarat's reality is survival. They took her father, they took her home, they told her lies ...

She didn't start this war, but she'll end it.

Omar El Akkad’s powerful debut novel imagines a dystopian future: a second American Civil War, a devastating plague and one family caught deep in the middle. In American War, we’re asked to consider what might happen if America were to turn its most devastating policies and deadly weapons against itself.

I'd like to start my review by thanking Joy at Joyous Reads whose blogged review of American War back in April 2018 encouraged me to add this novel to my TBR - and, almost two years later, I've finally read it! Why on earth did I wait so long? American War is unbelievably good!

American War is one of a select few novels which, for me at least, surpassed the five star rating I have awarded. As I closed the book after reading its final page, I actually had to take a couple of minutes to bring myself back to the present day because I had been so deeply immersed in Sarat's world that it felt more real to me than my own! El Akkad has brilliantly meshed together the realities of refugees' smashed lives in every war ever with a chilling portrait of how such desperation can be manipulated by callous men to create radicalised suicidal human weapons. What makes American War so shocking is that, by imagining America ripped apart by a second civil war, El Akkad's refugees are both Americans themselves and the result of American warfare techniques. This isn't the USA invading foreign nations in South or Central America, or across the Middle East, but the narrative and actions have such an authentic ring to them because I have already seen these ideas in novels such as Red Birds by Mohammed Hanif and The President's Gardens by Muhsin Al-Ramli.

The concept of The South rising again is wonderfully evocative. The American War storyline is told from a point even further into the future than the events we follow so it reads as rich historical fiction even it is actually science fiction. We glimpse as-yet impossible technologies, but the majority of scenes are set on poverty-stricken Southern lands, all-but destroyed by years of war, or within the crowded tent city that is Patience Refugee Camp, so people are struggling to survive with very little, their only highlights being the monthly Chinese aid shipment. I got a sense of a society which had reached affluent success, but which had now lost everything it had achieved - perhaps similar to present-day Syria?

El Akkad has already garnered comparisons with authors such as Cormac McCarthy and, on the strength of his vivid depictions of these grim settings, I would agree that his writing is easily as powerful. I was absolutely steamrollered by American War and will, I think, be enthusiastically recommending this novel to everyone I can find! Superb!

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  1. Wow, I must have missed Joy's review or something! I am glad this one could completely blow you away, even further than the rating system allows. It sounds like it does a good job of being futuristic and having solid world building, while also being inclusive while showing how the plot affects everyone across the class levels as well. I like the sound of this and will have to go and check it out on Goodreads now!

    1. Joy read American War a couple of years ago because she's an up-to-date reader!! I definitely think you would appreciate this novel although it's perhaps a little dark for reading right now?

  2. I was about to say something of very dark humour re: apocalyptic scenarios and/or anarchy. But I've decided not to! <3

    1. American War is a pretty dark novel so it could well have been appropriate!!