Egyptian writer and journalist Omar El Akkad sets his debut novel, American War, in the late 21st century. In his dystopian landscape, America's coastlines have washed away from rising waters, the capital of America has been moved inland to Columbus, Ohio, and the nation is on the brink of a second civil war between the north and south. The heart of the story focuses on Sarat Chesnut, a six-year-old in the opening scene, who soon becomes a hardened and defiant fighter for the Rebel cause. The Chesnuts live in a refugee camp, and the story follows them (mainly Sarat) with interspersed news reports, testimonies, and diary entries. I wish El Akkad hadn't disrupted his narrative with these "found footage"-esque chapters; to me, they broke the flow of the story and left me with more confusion than clarity. Minus those chapters, however, American War was staggeringly well told. It dealt with American terror policies, climate change, the legacies of history, biochemical warfare, and so much more.
When the novel was released in April 2017, many reviewers hailed it as "terrifyingly plausible" and "a world all too familiar in its grisly realism," and "terrifying in its prescient vision of the future." I feel like the use of "terrifying" speaks to the dystopia El Akkad conjures so easily from our reality; American War works, largely, because as a reader you feel like this could be our future. El Akkad has worked as a journalist - he has covered the Arab Spring uprising, Guantanamo Bay trials, the Black Lives Matter movement - and as Vulture.com writes, "his fiction debut is the culmination of all he’s seen of humanity at its best and worst."
A worthwhile read not for the faint of heart. Rating: ★★★★