Omar El Akkad's American War - Review

It's a novel predicting a grim future where climate change and internal conflicts have caused tremendous damage. North and South are divided, not by the racial lines, but by the usage of fossil fuel, so severe the division is that a second Civil War starts in 2075 and ending in 2095, costing millions of people their lives in the process.

Omar El Akkad's American War is written well, has good characters development, plot and fast moving story, and I felt while reading it that the writer has written this novel as a metaphor, pointing to the eerie similarities between our contemporary world in early 21st century with the mere six to eight decades in the future.

The story of an innocent girl named Sara T. Chestnut (Sarat) and her family, suffered from the war's violence. A born curious and exploratory girl, who might in better condition could have become a great scientist or a writer, Sarat gets manipulated by war veteran man named Gaines, who utilizes his charm and eloquence to fill Sarat's juvenile mind with hatred. Sarat and her family suffers more from subsequent massacres while they were staying at a refugee camp, that exacerbated more Sarat's radicalization.

The writer's some of the observations  I find to be profound that he depicts through some of his characters including the following: "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?" 

The writer Omar El Akkad was born in Egypt, grew up in Qatar, and lived in both Canada and US. His observation on hapless Middle East condition seen from not so distant future is thought provoking: "“It used to be that all those different countries were ruled by kings and generals who treated a few people very well and a lot of people very badly. So we had a revolution, and finally we forced out the kings and forced out the generals and formed a republic, a democracy.”

This new democratic republic that becomes a huge empire called Bouazizi, now wants to make sure that American War continues and it never becomes the most powerful again, and Sarat gets caught in this cycle of deceits that Bouazizi secretly supports that contributes in the continuation of American War. Here is a quote from Bouazizi's recruiter talking to Sarat, giving the explanation what all its support means: "My people have created an empire. It is young now, but we intend it to be the most powerful empire in the world. For that to happen, other empires must fail. I think by now you understand that, if it were the other way around—if the South was on the verge of winning—perhaps I would be having this conversation in Pittsburgh or Columbus. I don’t want to lie to you, Sarat: this is a matter of self-interest, nothing more." - governed by self-interest, as our contemporary world does like its predecessor centuries, these calculative war games have caused so much destruction and miseries while the wasted resources could be utilized for the betterment of humanity in the realm of science, technology and medicines. 

Through Albert Gaines, the writer utters the following forewarning: "“Even back then, you could see it coming,” said Gaines. “Before the first bombs fell, before the slaughter in East Texas, everyone knew this country was getting ready to tear itself to shreds."

Sarat is an observant girl as she observes, "How could it ever be, thought Sarat, that a person could eat this well every day and not die from the very shame of it—when just a few miles away there lived so many subsisting on so little." - true in that distant future as it is true in our contemporary world when countless many around the world, near and far, subsists on meager subsistence, while a great many of us ignore the downtrodden's plight willfully or stay in oblivious bliss. 

Wherever war happens, in the past, present or the future, Omar El Akkad perhaps correctly observes, "the misery of war represented the world’s only truly universal language" - though I don't agree with the word "only" in this regard. Miseries can also arise without the war, like dismal poverty, bigotry and lack of democracy, and the miseries from these conditions can also represent the similar anguish level everywhere. 

In the following lines the writer I believe reveals the purpose of writing this powerful novel, to show the striking equivalency: "War broke them the same way, made them scared and angry and vengeful the same way. In times of peace and good fortune they were nothing alike, but stripped of these things they were kin. The universal slogan of war, she’d learned, was simple: If it had been you, you’d have done no different."

The main character of this novel is Sarat, whose pain, sufferings and momentary happiness were fleshed out in detail. As the story unfolds and Sarat delves more into never ending vengeance cycles, her truest inner being resurfaces from time to time, as she adorably tells her six year old nephew, “Don’t ever apologize for that,” she said. “That’s all there is to life, is wanting to know."

That same nephew, becomes a refugee, had to start over in a new land, though when he grows up, he forgets the agonies of being a refugee, as he "found myself contemptuous of the refugees’ presence in a city already overburdened. At the foot of the docks, we yelled at them to go home, even though we knew home to be a pestilence field. We carried signs calling them terrorists and criminals and we vandalized the homes that would take them in. It made me feel good to do it, it made me feel rooted; their unbelonging was proof of my belonging."

Omar El Akkad's American War is a powerful novel that frighteningly depicts a very plausible world not too distant in the future with the hope that humanity will learn from its past mistakes and will reverse its dismal steps for a better future where endless wars and violence are discarded in favor of saving this lone planet and its inhabitants, where scientific inventions, technological marvels and medical miracles usher in transformative and compassionate humanity for all.

This will probably be the last book review that I will write in 2017. Hoping to read more great books and write reviews of them in 2018. 

Happy New Year to everyone!