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American War

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3.79  ·  Rating details ·  26,047 ratings  ·  3,851 reviews
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 ...more
Hardcover, 333 pages
Published April 4th 2017 by Knopf Publishing Group
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Mark While climate change provides a backdrop for the story and the banning of petroleum fuel provides the trigger for Southern secession, the core of the…moreWhile climate change provides a backdrop for the story and the banning of petroleum fuel provides the trigger for Southern secession, the core of the story deals with the effects of long-term civil war on a populace and how those effects make it possible to recruit individuals to what we call "terrorist acts."

In addition, individuals on all sides of the war use the war as a reason to initiate inhumane acts. That is, there is no "right" side in the conflict; all are equally guilty of horrific acts.

It would be possible to take this story and change the names, geography, and causes to anywhere in the world and it would be just as real. Look at any of the countries currently suffering a civil war - Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Sudan to name a few - or look at our own Civil War and you could see this story.

The thing that makes this book "Literature" is it's style, excellent narrative flow, and strong characters. For that alone it is worth the read.(less)
This question contains spoilers… (view spoiler)
Jan Part of what makes this book so riveting is that it combines the author's knowledge of what modern war looks like (refugee camps, terrorist…morePart of what makes this book so riveting is that it combines the author's knowledge of what modern war looks like (refugee camps, terrorist recruitment, psychological trauma, germ warfare, drone attacks, daily loss and uncertainty) with intimate experience of current American issues and attitudes. It busts you out of any "it couldn't happen here" comfort. Maybe it hasn't happened here YET, but this is a book like Margaret Atwood's A Handmaid's Tale -- most of the stuff in it has happened (or is happening) somewhere in the world, including the torture of prisoners. It's much more than Palestine, and the novel is very plausible in portraying how all these factors might play out given American society and history. (less)

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Michael Finocchiaro
I struggle on this one between 3 and 4 stars. On one hand, it is action-packed and a pretty horrifying dystopian novel. On the other, my suspension of disbelief was severely challenged by the timeline and the realignment of world power (don't worry - no spoilers). The protagonist, Sarat is an interesting and tragic figure, but she was hard to have sympathy for at times. Some of her actions were predictable, not to say almost caricatural while her actions do seem realistically driven by her suffe ...more
Jilly
Nov 25, 2017 rated it did not like it
My reasons for disliking this book are complicated. My main feelings about it is that it's a hacky piece of work that is trying very hard to be politically profound, but failing in execution.

First, let's talk about why it fails (in my eyes) as a dystopian novel. And, no, I don't mean its lack of a teenager falling in love with a rebel boy or the fact that they don't seem to all be dressed as emo soldiers (although there are plenty of soldiers).

My reasons for disliking this book are complicated. My main feelings about it is that it's a hacky piece of work that is trying very hard to be politically profound, but failing in execution.

First, let's talk about why it fails (in my eyes) as a dystopian novel. And, no, I don't mean its lack of a teenager falling in love with a rebel boy or the fact that they don't seem to all be dressed as emo soldiers (although there are plenty of soldiers).


See? This is how it's done.

There are two ways to go about building a good dystopia:
1. Make it so far-fetched that it is fantasy and therefore the reader is not comparing it to reality.
or
2. Make it close to reality with an event that changes it enough to be dystopia, regardless of whether the event itself is realistic.


Another essential element.

This book is trying to be modeled by the second option, but falls short in enough ways to suspend believability and make the reader question the timeline and events in the context of what we know to be true.


Aww, now this is more like it. Totally believable.

The event that is supposed to be the break from our timeline is a second Civil War in America. The problem was that the book pretty much just recycled the real Civil War and changed a few things, like fossil fuel for slavery. If this war was meant to be in any way believable, we would have to agree that our country learned nothing the first time and were willing to do the exact same thing a couple hundred years later. We would also have to believe that the South is the same idiotic South of the 1800's - full of bluster, willing to die for an antiquated idea, etc... As a person who lives in the South, I find it almost insulting that the people are portrayed as so ignorant that they (we) would not welcome cleaner energy, which is what the war is all about. Yes, my state does have a strong oil-based economy, but I also believe that we would have the intelligence to embrace new methods of energy when half of our country is underwater because of the polar ice caps melting - another premise in the book. So, not only is the whole war thing a rip-off of history, but it is unbelievable and frankly insulting to Southerners. The timeline is also way off, but I'm talking about why in the next part of my angry rant... I mean review.


We are a friendly people, dammit!! Now, I have a finger to show you, book. Bless your heart.

Next, let's talk about why it fails as a political commentary.
In this reality, the Arab nations and Africa all unite to become a super-country that is the bestest most prosperous and stablest place on Earth. Now, I'm not going to say anything crazy like "this could never happen", but let's face it, this book isn't set far enough in the future to resolve every problem in the Middle East and Africa - which are very different problems by the way.


Don't forget Africa while you are at it, Bob. Thanks!

Not only this, but in so many other ways, the book was eye-rolling in its desire to pander to an audience who would be super excited about the idea that America will suffer and fall. And, not just us, folks. You over there in the European area - your people are desperately trying to cross the borders into the safe sweet arms of the Middle East as well. We all want a piece of that pie.


Maybe we can make a trade...

There is such thinly veiled hate for America in this book that it's hidden about as well as an Easter Egg at the blind-kid school.


Sometimes things are obvious.

During this second Civil War, we are living off the generosity of China's aid in the form of food and blankets, we are displaced from our homes and put into refugee camps, we are being turned into suicide bombers with the financial aid of Egypt, and we even have our own little Guantanamo where our Southern Belles are being tortured (yes, waterboarding happens).


We have incredibly strong necks down here.

Is someone pissed at us?

Has someone been having little "Death to America" dreams that they needed to get down on paper?


Feeling butt-hurt?

Get in line.

And, fuck you.
...more
Diane S ☔
Apr 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A second civil war, a war over fossil fuel banned in the North but in the Southern states they still have plenty of resources and once again do not want to be dictated by those in the government. Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi, South Carolina secede from the Union. It is the late 2000's, climate change has already changed the map, coastal cities wiped out, west and South, Louisianan lowlands gone, a plague is released resulting in South Carolina being quarantined, walled in, residents not allo ...more
Holly
May 01, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017-reads
I didn't understand the point of this. Something huge is missing in this novel. There is a hole in the center. Omar El Akkad tells a story of a new American Civil War taking place around the year 2075. To paint this setting he borrows heavily from the American Civil War of 1862-1865 and he replicates and augments the Old South's long-abiding sense of injustice - the Lost Cause and lost way of life, loyalty to family and one's people before all else, "real" Southern values, etc. But we know what ...more
Philip
3.5ish stars

This is not your typical dystopia. I feel like that word, dystopia, has developed something of a negative connotation in literature recently because of the inundation of books, especially YA ones, that fit into the sub-genre. American War is science fiction in the same way that The Road or The Handmaid's Tale are science fiction, which is to say, more speculative than science. And while this book may not be on the same level as those two, it's really not that far from it.

The author presents a
...more
Snotchocheez
Apr 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
4 stars

I can't quite gush effusively for Omar El Akkad's American War, but not since The Handmaid's Tale has a dystopian novel spoken to me so loud and clear. (The thinly veiled "Fuck you, Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions" message was probably integral to my enjoyment.)

Pretty simple concept: imagining the United States, circa the late 21st century in the midst of a second Civil War, thanks in no small part to global warming (Florida is gone gone gone) and the polemical divide between"Blues" and "Reds". To E
...more
Bryan Alexander
"Everyone fights an American war." (306)
Do you know the experience of diving into a book expecting one certain thing, only to realize part-way through that the thing is actually about another subject? You assume X, but get Y?

That's how I read Omar El Akkad's recent novel American War. Everything I read described a near-future novel about a second Civil War, with the north and south tearing at each other once again. And the book does fulfill that promise. We follow a Louisiana family as members
...more
Bradley
This is a novel that hearkens back to the great days of serious and very dark future history, the kind that used be common in SF before it got taken over with fluffy (if dark) YA that is usually a lot more simple and caricature than serious.

So now we're back to the good and serious SF, no light tones here, and we fast forward to a history of America where its dominance in the world has sunk with a lot of its land, where ecological changes have turned the deserts into blasted lands, w
...more
Ron Charles
When you wade into the ever-agitated waters of social media, you realize just how quickly the currents of infectious bile are flowing. Follow the tributaries of today’s political combat a few decades into the future and you might arrive at something as terrifying as Omar El Akkad’s debut novel, “American War.” Across these scarred pages rages the clash that many of us are anxiously speculating about in the Trump era: a nation riven by irreconcilable ideologies, alienated by entrenched suspicions ...more
Rachel
It's hard to say where exactly Omar El Akkad went wrong with American War, because on the surface, this appears to be such a well-constructed novel. El Akkad ties in the story of our protagonist, Sarat, with his imagined vision of a second American Civil War in a way that's comprehensive and undeniably steeped with tragedy. The world building in this novel is immense, with various news articles scattered like historical set pieces throughout the narrative. But when you look closer, there are too man ...more
Ioana
Oct 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
"Come here," she said.
I shook my head. "I'm scared."
"Good," she said. "Now you have something you can kill."

Fear. The ultimate driver of hate, bigotry, conflict, ultimately: of war. The emotion that pervades so much of our current geopolitical situation: the fear of our neighbor, of their religion, of their skin, of their seemingly foreign customs and traditions. Fear: perhaps the only emotion hardwired into the human condition, the underlying evolutionary mechanism that keeps us alive and perpetuates/>
...more
Book of the Month
American Horror Story
By Judge Maris Kreizman

Fair warning: American War is not a beach read. Not only because the novel is not fluffy and light, but also because it’s set in a near-future dystopia in which global warming has submerged the majority of America’s current coastlines. Spring Break forever? Not likely.

I hate to use the word “timely” nowadays, especially because I have a habit of making everything from Gilmore Girls to Fifty Shades of Grey about contemporar
...more
Michael Ferro
Feb 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Omar El Akkad's AMERICAN WAR is an often-chilling and devastatingly visceral peek into our country's future should we not find a peaceful way to resolve our political differences. Of particular interest in this novel for me was the defined sense of realism, despite being submerged in *obvious* dystopia; the new American Civil War feels incredibly real, the dejected southerners trained to become self-sacrificing martyrs are believable, and Akkad brings the horrors and desperations of an America f ...more
Brenda
Jun 23, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: 9-dnf
I’m giving up on this book at a little more than half way through. The premise of a dystopian world during and after a second American Civil War was interesting, and I was curious about the two maps shown before the Prologue. Set in the future beginning in 2074, the story centers on the Chestnut family and specifically on young Sara T, known as Sarat. The descriptions of their life and the environment in which they survived were mostly depressing, and the pace was slow in some places. The book w ...more
Helene Jeppesen
Jun 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
4.5/5 stars.
This book was really good and really scary, and it came as a surprise to me how much I liked it. Not because I had heard bad things about it beforehand, but because I had a feeling that this book was either going to be too dark and sinister for my taste, or it would be just the right amount of dark and sinister as well as give me an interesting insight into what America could look like less than 100 years from now.
Basically, this book takes place in America in the 2070s-2090s, and
...more
Rincey
Jun 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poc-author, favorites
Absolutely brutal.

Watch my full review: https://youtu.be/Y_HVqmangdI
Celeste
Sep 06, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: dystopian, literary
Full review now posted!

Sometimes, a book hits you at exactly the wrong moment. In my case, that’s exactly what happened with American War. My lack of love for this book is definitely a case of “it’s not you; it’s me,” and that is in large part due to the timing.

This was a very good book objectively. It was beautifully written, well-researched, poignant, and plausible. But subjectively, I couldn’t get far enough past the sadness that said plausibility invoked within me to enjoy anyt
...more
Susie Wang
Nov 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: standalone
I wish I could give this book 10 stars out of five. I'd wished I could give it 10 stars from the prologue alone, and it got better and better.
Like I said in my updates, this book feels like more like a prophecy instead of a novel given what happened recently. I feel like the author truly knows war, and he understands the grudges some stubborn people seem to hold all their lives. Also he grasps the most horrifying thing about the war, that it destroys every single person's belief no matter
...more
Scott
Dec 03, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: science-fiction
Could the United States tear itself apart in another bloody Civil War? Could the catalyst for such a conflict could be a threat to the god-given liberty of red state Americans to drive gas-guzzling pickups - the inalienable constitutional right to bear Chevrolets?

Omar El Akkad thinks so, and based on this scenario he has produced American War - a fictional history of the second American Civil War to come.

American War is an interesting blend of ideas. It's part future history, like Robert
...more
Greg
Jul 22, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, life-is-shit
I was torn between three and four stars here. I was torn the same way with the small press book Ruin Season, when I read it last week. That one I went up to four and this one I went down to three. In so many ways this is probably a better novel, but since it's published by Random House, and it has lots of other reviews / ratings, I don't feel like I should be boosting up my rating to help the book out, or at least not feel like as much of an asshole.

I thought the book was quite good. The premise
...more
Book Riot Community
How does this sound: this book is like if Jesamyn Ward wrote The Road. Still need convincing? American War is the story of the second American Civil War, a war that breaks out in 2074 over the use of oil. Now, the North and South are once more divided, Texas has become a part of Mexico again, and China is the the most powerful nation in the world. Sarat is a young girl in Louisiana when the war begins, but when her father is killed, she and her family are moved to a camp for displaced persons. T ...more
Trish
Gave up, folks. This doesn't mean it's a bad book. It means I just couldn't...it's a mix of YA, sci fi, dystopian, looking at the U.S. after an event that destroyed part of it. There is constant war between the North and the South. It was interesting to see what someone else thought were our nation's weak points and our strengths. There is just so much going on in real life right now that is more gripping than any fiction. I am sure readership of fiction has gone down: someone will come up with ...more
Campbell Andrews
Dec 26, 2016 rated it it was ok
They should subtitle this book IT COULD HAPPEN HERE!!, emblazoned in big red letters on a sash wrapped and affixed with a blood-red seal. The author can regale MSNBC and NPR with his Nostradamus vision while book clubs queue at signings, clutching their pearls in one hand and cupping lattes in the other.

(My first thought, on picking up the book, was Why has no one written this yet? It will be a bestseller and have its rights optioned, posthaste.)

The author has no doubt wi
...more
Sharon
Apr 27, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: sci-fi
One has to wonder how much author Omar El Akkad's career in journalism compelled him to pen this cautionary tale set during the all-too-believable future civil war between America's North and South.

The setting (an ecologically exhausted world fraught with political instability) was not groundbreaking territory for a dystopian novel, but El Akkad's focus on the ugliness of war and the ambiguity of "the cause" was one of the more realistic I've read.

Strengths: Whether you agree or disagree with t/>:
...more
Carlos
Aug 15, 2017 rated it liked it
This was a 2.75 or 2.50 stars book for me mostly. First of all I never understood the plot of the book and then I realized is because there is none . The book goes back and forward and tells you how the story is going to end from the beginning and then it takes you forward, then backward and forward again, we never connected with the main character and her plight because the book doesn't explore the circumstances that made the world the characters live possible , and you also never get a cohesiv ...more
♥ Sandi ❣
4 stars
An all to possible, and probable, second civil war breaks out - it is 2074. With climate changes in full effect, the Mississippi River becomes the Mississippi Sea. Most of the south eastern coast line is now underwater. Louisiana is just a morsel of what it was. Oil is outlawed, drones become bombers in the sky and the southeastern states have seceded from the north. Camp Patience is divided into regions resembling the forgotten states of South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama and Geo
...more
Jessica Jeffers
I liked this book, set in the future after a second Civil War has torn the country apart again, but I didn't love it. Maybe I just need to let my feelings stew for a bit.
Blair
American War is narrated sometime in the early 22nd century by Benjamin Chestnut; it's about his aunt, Sarat. (How Benjamin knows so much detail of Sarat's life becomes clear at the end; his biographer's perspective allows for the inclusion of articles and documents that flesh out the story's context.) From her family's cabin to a refugee camp, from the tomboyish games of childhood to her teenage years as a rebel fighter and what she suffers as a consequence, the narrative follows Sarat for over tw ...more
Brandon
The United States of fifty years from now is a vastly different place - physically, not just politically.  Climate change has ravaged the country with coastal cities becoming lost to the sea.  They even packed up and moved the capital inland from Washington, D.C. to Columbus, Ohio.

A train derailment and subsequent oil spill have forced the hand of the government in banning fossil fuel use across America.  It’s the final straw that breaks the camel's back following decades of environm
...more
Lauren
Once I realized that this near-future dystopia could actually be read as an allegory for the recent past / present Middle East, it flowed better for me.

El Akkad had a great concept here, and I am glad I read it - it is a 3.5 stars for me. I look forward to more work by this author.

--
Read for Book Riot's 2017 Read Harder Challenge "A debut novel"
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Omar was born in Cairo, Egypt and grew up in Doha, Qatar until he moved to Canada with his family. He is an award-winning journalist and author who has traveled around the world to cover many of the most important news stories of the last decade. His reporting includes dispatches from the NATO-led war in Afghanistan, the military trials at Guantànamo Bay, the Arab Spring revolution in Egypt and th
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“You fight the war with guns, you fight the peace with stories.” 43 likes
“It seemed sensible to crave safety, to crave shelter from the bombs and the Birds and the daily depravity of war. But somewhere deep in her mind an idea had begun to fester-perhaps the longing for safety was itself just another kind of violence-a violence of cowardice, silence, submission. What was safety, anyway, but the sound of a bomb falling on someone else's home?” 28 likes
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