Young Sarat Chestnut revolts against a post-apocalyptic American civil war.
American War, Omar El Akkad’s first novel, has already received acclaim from writers across North America. The novel begins in April 2075 as the former United States of America is torn by civil war, poverty and anarchy. Six-year-old Sarat Chestnut, her mother, father and siblings are surviving day-to-day, living on the shores of the Mississippi Sea on a small track of land within the remnants of the former state of Louisiana. Akkad immerses his readers into a world where global warming has reshaped the coastlines of America due to rising sea levels. Florida no longer exists and the shores of the states of Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia and the Carolinians have been dramatically changed as the seas have pushed inland. Fossil fuels have been outlawed by the ruling North.
Through Sarat, the reader becomes a participant in the civil war that has reshaped the former United States of America into three warring sections: the Free Southern State with its capital in Atlanta; the Mexican Protectorate, a battlefield covering the former south-western US; and the remaining land which makes up the ruling nation known as the United States (The North) with its capital in Columbus. When Sarat’s father is murdered attempting to secure the necessary visas to move his family to the North and away from the war, the remaining Chestnut family members (Sarat, her mother Martina, sister Dana and brother Simon) are relocated to Camp Patience, a refuge camp located within the Free Southern State on the Tennessee border of the North.
During their years living at the refugee camp, Sarat is befriended by an older gentleman who tweaks her hatred of the North, training her as a scout and in intelligence gathering. The Patience Massacre, a raid by the North which killed all of the refugees except Sarat and her sister, turns Sarat’s hatred into action. The decisions she makes infuriate the North, who send troops and “Birds” (armed drones) into the Southern communities in reprisal, escalating the war.
Akkad brings his audience into Sarat’s internal struggle, knowing that the North’s retaliation for her actions could very well bring about the death of those she loves. Akkad develops Sarat’s character from an innocent, naïve young girl to a skilled teenaged assassin to a shell of a human being, as she confronts the North.
American War is a novel that will appeal to all readers who see the adverse effects of our current beliefs as a society and how those beliefs are harming our planet. The reader is left with questions about how much each of us would be willing to give of self for our deep-seated beliefs and for our love of those we care about most. The troubling thought resonating throughout the novel is that if we are not cognitive of the harm being done to this fragile Earth of ours, perhaps the events of Akkad’s fiction will one day become a significant stain on our future history.
Assistant fiction editor W. A. Thompson moved to Northern Ontario in the 1970s to play varsity hockey and obtain his forestry degree at Sault College. Now a senior at Lake Superior State University, he has been studying biology, creative writing, theatre, and music, enjoying writing and performing for all aspects of the stage. He was born and raised in Niagara Falls, Canada.