American War is a disturbing vision of a country torn apart by civil war. In Akkad’s tale, the northern and southern states of America are once again bitterly divided, this time over fossil fuels.
The story focuses on life in the southern states, which have borne the brunt of the fighting and destruction. Where the northern states are safe places to live, in the south, homes are abandoned or destroyed, families live in sprawling refugee camps, avoiding skirmishes between rebel groups and rogue drones that kill at will.
In this world, life has been stripped back to the essentials. People don’t wish for more than to stay alive. Those with enough resources try to flee for the north, where they can live a relatively normal life.
For Sarat Chestnut, life begins to go wrong when her father is killed and the family move to a refugee camp, fearing the war is about to envelop the land they live on.
There they are exposed to the rebel fighters who operate just outside the perimeter, and to the mysterious men who come to recruit children to their cause. One of these man is drawn to Sarat, thanks to her imposing physical presence, but also her outlook, which isn’t like that of the other children.
As the story progresses, the reader sees Sarat drawn further into the fighting, into torture and revenge, used as a terrible weapon against the Blues of the north.
By setting his story in a country torn apart by war and violence, Akkad has a window to explore the idea of extremism, its recruitment and the final acts of those prepared to carry out suicide missions. He provides insight into the brutalities that drive some of these people: how they are broken down by suffering and the yearning for retribution, but how they still retain some form of humanity.
American War is not an easy read. It’s not populated by sympathetic characters, but by those who have been shaped by their environment, whether into instruments of war or simply survivors. There is violence and suffering, meted out in a dystopian version of the US that few would recognise.
But it tells an important story, one that has a place in our society and that uses lessons from history to imagine how the world might destroy itself. You can’t help but relate the political undertones in this story to some of the things happening in the world today, whether it’s the war in Syria, terrorism or climate change.
A punchy read that presents a frightening vision of America’s future.
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Please note: I received an advance copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for a review, but all opinions are my own.