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American War Hardcover – Jan. 1 2017
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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, that unmanned drones fill the sky. And when her father is killed and her family is forced into Camp Patience for displaced persons, she quickly begins to be shaped by her particular time and place until, finally, through the influence of a mysterious functionary, she is turned into a deadly instrument of war. Telling her story is her nephew, Benjamin Chestnut, born during war as one of the Miraculous Generation and now an old man confronting the dark secret of his past -- his family's role in the conflict and, in particular, that of his aunt, a woman who saved his life while destroying untold others.
"American War is an extraordinary novel. El Akkad's story of a family caught up in the collapse of an empire is as harrowing as it is brilliant, and has an air of terrible relevance in these partisan times." —Emily St. John Mandel
"El Akkad has fashioned a surprisingly powerful novel—one that creates as haunting a postapocalyptic universe as Cormac McCarthy . . . and as devastating a look at the fallout that national events have on an American family as Philip Roth . . ." —New York Times
"American War is a worthy first novel, thought-provoking, earnest and mostly well-wrought. It is at its best depicting the lives of ordinary people caught up in terrible circumstances and how those ordinary people are, in the crosshairs of crisis and terrible circumstances, forever changed, and how some can become extraordinary or at least affect history. . . . El Akkad's formidable talent is to offer up a stinging rebuke of the distance with which the United States sometimes views current disasters, which are always happening somewhere else. Not this time." —Los Angeles Times
American War is Omar El Akkad's first novel and it is masterful. Both the story and the writing are lucid, succinct, powerful and persuasive." —Globe and Mail
"This is not a comforting political message for Americans, whose homeland has largely remained free of the chaos and bloodshed experienced by other nations in the modern age. But comfort is exactly what El Akkad is writing against. . . . What if it happened here? American War asks us to imagine the uncomfortable." —Toronto Star
"El Akkad demonstrates a profound understanding of the corrosive culture of civil war, the offenses that give rise to new hypocrisies and mythologies, translating terrorists into martyrs and acts of despair into feats of heroism." —Washington Post
"El Akkad, an Egyptian-born journalist who's covered the war on terror, has a knack for giving [the language of opression] as much of a heartbeat as possible. His imagined speeches, transcripts, history-book passages, censored letters and news stories feel accurate while highlighting institutional deceptions and omissions." —Mark Athitakis, Star Tribune
"It's a compelling narrative, one matched—surpassed, actually—by El Akkad's flawlessly executed backstory. Any dystopian novel is read as both story and the author's take on the present; this one, with its straight-line extrapoloation, not just from now but from the first Civil War, will be evaluated for its history as well. American War—its title, as slowly becomes apparent, is beautifully apt—covers past and present very well indeed." —Maclean's
"El Akkad, a Cairo-born journalist, has an innate (and depressingly timely) feel for the textural details of dystopia; if only his grim near-future fantasy didn't feel so much like a crystal ball." —EW
"Whether read as a cautionary tale of partisanship run amok, an allegory of past conflicts or a study of the physchology of war, American War is a deeply unsettling novel. The only comfort the story offers is that it's a work of fiction. For the time being, anyway." —New York Times
“American War, a work of a singular, grand, brilliant imagination, is a warning shot across the bow of the United States. Omar El Akkad has created a novel that isn’t afraid to be a pleasurable yarn as it delves into the hidden currents of American culture and extrapolates from them to envision a deeply tragic potential future.” —David Means, author of Hystopia
“Omar El Akkad’s urgent debut transmutes our society’s current dysfunction into a terrifying yet eerily recognizable future, where contemporary global and local conflicts have wreaked havoc on American soil. The threads between today and that future are his masterfully shaped characters. Their resilience, savagery, and humanity serve both as a portrait of who we are but also what we might very well become.” —Elliot Ackerman, author of Dark at the Crossing
“Omar El Akkad has created an American future that is both terrifying and plausible. In a world seared and flooded by global warming, the U.S. has fractured again into North and South. The barbarism that ensues is all the more awful because we know the rivers and the cities. And we know these people: they are our neighbors; they are us. Through the eyes of a young girl El Akkad lets us see the soul-crushing toll of war. It was only in the stunned minutes after I’d finished the novel that I realized he had also taught us how to make a consummate terrorist.”
—Peter Heller, author of The Dog Stars and Celine
"American War avoids being a polemic. Its characters are too vivid and contradictory, its twists of plot too well constructed, for the novel to settle for familiar and obvious messages." —San Francisco Chronicle
--This text refers to an alternate hardcover edition.
About the Author
- Publisher : Knopf; 1st Edition (Jan. 1 2017)
- Language : English
- ISBN-10 : 0451493583
- ISBN-13 : 978-0451493583
- Item weight : 635 g
- Dimensions : 17.02 x 2.79 x 24.38 cm
- Best Sellers Rank: #68,230 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Top reviews from Canada
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The novel is timely, predicting the direction that the United States could turn given the current divisions among Americans today. Sarat's story is interesting enough; I wanted to know what she would do and how things would end. I only give the book three stars because the novel dragged at times. At the end of every chapter, El Akkad included interviews or excerpts from articles supposedly about the events that were happening. This was presumably done to advance the story and keep the reader in the loop about what was happening in the background of Sarat's own story. But I felt it was unnecessary and didn't really illuminate things anyway, it simply distracted from the main narrative.
I could of help but thinking after I finished reading the book that this had the same basic elements of the Back to the Future trilogy. A man who's temper continually gets him into trouble, but in this case the character chooses not to overcome the fault.
Top reviews from other countries
I'm so glad to have had my expectations blown away, set between the mid 2070's to 2096, this follows a second American civil war that unfolds when southern states vote to leave the union after a bill is passed that aims to eradicate fossil fuels. A friend pointed this out as a potential plot hole when I recommended the book - what about all that southern land they could use for solar panel farms? Well Omar El Akkad's writing addresses this, with Arab states now uniting into a new world power at the forefront of renewable energy, the threads that ignite this civil war run twist more than just dependence on oil but centuries worth of tension, political assassinations and foreign interference that stoke the flames.
Readers will be able to pick out the tensions and attitudes you can observe in present America's 'Democrat vs Republican' media circus that ends up dividing citizens in the book's future timeline. This story revolves around the displacement and refugee status of the Chestnut family amid the start of the war and the slow radicalisation of Sarat Chestnut as the effects of displacement, propaganda and suffering wear the family down.
Akkad's writing shines with his background in journalism and documenting war zones, there is no idealisation in this book but deep mistrust of war, it questions and forces the reader to confront the realities of radicalisation, how young people can be turned into weapons, even when their suffering has come from rebel groups of their own cause. The story is threaded with oral histories of the war between chapters set further into the future in the 2100's when the nation reflects upon it's second devastating civil conflict that add an almost biographical historical element to the book.
I finished the book within a day, I could not put it down and rushed through the last 70 pages when I woke up the next morning. I'd recommend this to any fan of speculative science fiction, I just hope the rest of the shortlist where I learned about this book is as good as American War.
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!
I thank the author for showing me realities that we ignore all the time - climate change, third-world war and despair, all in the guise of America - and us in the west. It forced me to look at the news again and notice the stories that come far down the play-list.
This book will remain with me for a long time and Sarat will stay with me for longer: I cannot like her but my tears for her are real.
The main character, Sarat, is a Southener and a refugee displaced by the fighting and becomes radicalised while in a refugee camp. This is a very interesting and thought provoking twist which mirrors the plight of those caught up in fighting in the middle east currently.
I thought this book was really well written and I struggled to put it down. It's interesting how much it occupied my mind while I wasn't reading it too, a sure sign of an excellent plot.