American War

American War

A Novel

eBook - 2017
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Shortlisted for the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize A Globe and Mail Best Book A New York Times Notable Book of the Year A Quill & Quire Best Book of 2017 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.
Publisher: [S.l.]: McClelland & Stewart, 2017.
Characteristics: 320 p.
Additional Contributors: cloudLibrary

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ArapahoeAnnaL Sep 17, 2020

This dystopian novel set in the United States 55 years from now is so convincing it haunts me days after finishing it. There is nothing extraneous; every scene and piece of dialog contributes. What emerges is a powerful and sympathetic narrative of a life-loving curious child as she endures loss and hopelessness growing up in a refugee camp . The reader is left pondering the attractions of loyalty, revenge and destruction versus healing and new life.

e
esherbine
May 20, 2020

Fun post-apocalyptic novel that imagines the US after a future civil war. Seemed like a timely read during the COVID-19 era of social distancing and work from home.

r
ryner
May 04, 2020

In a speculative future of the United States, six-year-old Sarat lives with her mother and siblings in an old shipping container in an area of Louisiana slowly being overtaken by rising sea levels. As battles in eastern Texas grow nearer their home, they evacuate to a refugee camp in Mississippi, in what is now, after the second Civil War, the Free Southern State. At Camp Patience Sarat learns the skills of survival in that place of squalor, and her loyalties grow more strongly toward the Free Southern State and the promise of vengeance.

Wow, what a time for this book to percolate to the top of my to-read list! Disease and isolation play a pretty significant role, so it was at times a rather eerie experience. That, combined with the question of loyalty and of who are the good/bad guys might make this an intriguing choice for a book discussion group. Recommended (especially in 2020!).

s
SLDESLIPPE
Feb 18, 2020

The author clearly has an in-depth knowledge to how multiple parties behave in times of conflict, and that's where the book shines. I'm not surprised as the author is a journalist with a history reporting on conflict.

I found his writing style to be patchy and his use of symbolism a little heavy-handed. Also, I thought the framing device seemed a little odd as it opens as a first person narrative for a few pages and then switches to third person for the vast majority of the book. I think it would have been stronger if they'd left it all in the third person as the first person components don't seem to gel with the rest of the book.

That being said, it's a quick, easy, engaging read and as I mentioned earlier, the attention to detail when describing the origins and implications of conflict was strong.

k
KatG1983
Jan 06, 2020

American War is well written, if in need of better editing. I don't think the story needed to be as long as it was. In the end this book is a depiction of how violence begets more violence, and how one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. Interesting read given the times we are living in, where climate could be the catalyst for civil war; and careless politicians could be the catalyst for destruction.

n
nanhedrick2
Oct 18, 2019

I thought this was an important and, on the whole, plausible vision of the future. Climate change of an extreme nature not fair down the pike, and Trump is telling Texans that the Dems would cut off their oil. Demagoguery with climate could create a world like this one, where one side of the nation fights the other. I thought it showed that the author had read southern literature and knew what alliances and vengeance looked like in real world settings. My mother's family was from the border areas in the Civil War (in Tennessee), and some of her description of the attitudes she had seen over the years on her trips back there may we find too plausible that our country's future may be negative again. Portland reader

STPL_JessH Sep 13, 2019

American War is absolutely outstanding. I loved the writing, and often gasped audibly at the artistry of a particular description. I was fortunate enough to listen to the audio book and the narration by Dion Graham is outstanding. His reading added such gravitas to Omar El Akkad's debut.

I so admire Sarat's complexity. Akkad does not take the easy way out and position her in some kind of tomboyish box. Instead, we see her naiveté, her bravery, her flawed choices, and her raw and brutal pain.

I loved the inclusion of historical commentary pieces. I found the play with time – historical documents about a future society – allowed Akkad to offer sociopolitical commentary on the civil war of the past we know while proving the adage that history repeats itself. So many moments in this narrative could have been lifted directly from newspaper articles from the civil war and indeed from our current arena: including the types of torture used by American guards.

I recognize the limiting attitudes in this book far too well. I also appreciated Akkad's resistance to make the future some kind of technologically advanced society with flying cars or other clichés. The constant reminders of the eco devastation of climate change were powerful and necessary (eg. vegetables that won't grow, a Category 6 hurricane being dismissed as not really a big deal).

I cried throughout the final section as the loose ends were tied and all the pieces fit together. Akkad has achieved an awe-inspiring work of emotion, poetry, brutality, and depth.

s
Swannetje
Jun 26, 2019

Listing here so as not to lose/forget . . . 2nd civil war . . . climate change impact

j
jimtroeltsch
Mar 01, 2019

The world El Akkad built in American War is the novel's most interesting component. I agree with some other reviewers, the dialogue is occasionally cringey and overreaches to the implausible, but give it a read if you're a fan of the post-apocalyptic genre. It's certainly a fascinating lens through which to observe our current time. Also a very fast read.

p
pondgrl
Jan 23, 2019

I wanted to like this, since it was the Hillsboro Reads selection for 2018, but I couldn't get through it. I didn't like the characters, there was too much character development (I kept thinking "get on with it"), and it was just slow.

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ArapahoeAnnaL Sep 19, 2020

He had pasted on his face a smirk with which Sarat was well acquainted….It was the smirk of knowing he’d left her with an impossible choice – step into the river of filth or be labeled a coward. Even then, at such a young age, she understood that smile for what it was: a mask atop fear, a balm for the crippling insecurity of childhoods deeply damaged. They were fragile boys who wore it, and their fragility demanded menace. Pg. 127

s
shayshortt
Mar 30, 2018

If we nod and smile while they parade some fantasy about this being a noble disagreement between equals and not a bloody fight over their stubborn commitment to a ruinous fuel, the war will never really be over…You fight the war with guns, you fight the peace with stories.

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shayshortt
Mar 30, 2018

Sarat Chestnut is born by the sea, into contested territory between the Reds and Blues that are fighting the Second American Civil War. Her world is wracked by climate change, and by the South’s refusal to give up on fossil fuels. Much of the Southern US coast is now underwater, and out-of-control drones crawl the skies. When her father is killed in a bombing, Sarat’s mother and her three children flee to Camp Patience, a refugee camp on the North/South border. There they scrape together a life always on the edge of dissolution, and the children grow up with the question of what the future can possibly hold for them. It is here that Sarat meets the mentor who will shape her mind, and turn her to his own ends.

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