In the late 21st century a new civil war breaks out in America, one that is not fought on grounds of race but over resources. The north has broken free from the indiscriminate use of fossil fuels and moved on to solar and other power sources that are eco-friendly, while the south has bedded down with fossil fuels and refused to give them up. In a historical section set about a hundred years after the end of the war, one discovers that a biological weapon was used by a southern insurgent that killed millions more than the war did, but no one knows who the person responsible for this latter atrocity is. With the brilliant storytelling El-Akkad brings to the table in American War, one can be confident that his eloquence and skill will lead readers to appreciate a very sympathetic character trapped in unimaginable circumstances.
The power of El-Akkad’s writing beguiles the reader to contemplate the idea of a young, intelligent, woman turning to insurgency and becoming a weapon to be used against her own people. You may be thinking “mad bomber,” and begin to see Sarat Chestnut as a terrorist, but if you’ve ever wondered how the agents of foreign terror organizations recruit the hapless souls who sacrifice themselves in suicide bombings across the Middle East, you need look no further than Sarat’s experience. Losing a father, a home and any direction away from the conflict, Sarat has little choice but to live in a camp provided for the displaced. After personal tragedy and other hardships, Sarat’s whole way of thinking changes because of her family’s treatment. Revenge fills her once innocent heart, and we are witness to her rage.
The historical asides at the end of the chapters have been criticized as being “boring,” but such an approach negates the important thought behind El-Akkad’s work. This is the history of a future civil war; documentation of the facts to be (so to say) is an important part of accounting for the war itself. By reading these one can infer what really happens and one must read between the lines to truly appreciate Sarat’s involvement. These historical asides should instead be thought of as guideposts that a reader can use to navigate the untold parts of the story.
I’ve always loved books that are controversial, for I’ve found that when people encounter a book that makes them think differently than they are used to, it may lead to them to having second thoughts about something they had not considered as having another side. That is if they can keep an open mind, and with the brilliant storytelling El-Akkad brings to the table in American War, one can be confident that his eloquence and skill will lead readers to appreciate a very sympathetic character trapped in uniquely terrible circumstances.
— review by Raul M. Chapa
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