( I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher)
This one was tough. I am usually a big fan of speculative/dystopian fiction but it has gotten harder for me to enjoy this type of novel in the current geopolitical climate. Books like AMERICAN WAR offer a more plausible glimpse of the future than ever before.
AMERICAN WAR is told primarily in flashbacks and follows one family's experience during the Second American Civil War in the mid- to late 21st Century. The Chestnut family lives in what is left of Louisiana. Rising waters have covered large portions of the United States coastlines and the country is fractured between what is left of the traditional U.S. (The Blue) and the rebels Southern states (the Red). Sarat Chestnut's family falls in the Purple area. Sarat lives with her parents, her older brother, and her twin sister in a modified shipping container and barely get by. Their lives are changed forever when Sarat's father is killed by a rebel suicide bomber while attempting to get a work permit to move his family north. This death sets into motion a chain of events that will eventually have repercussions for the entire nation.
I found this book entirely plausible. Much of the conflict between the southern and northern states seemed to center around fossil fuels. After they are outlawed in the North, the South continues to use them and flout the authority of the North in a resistance reminiscent of the states' rights battle over slavery. In the ensuing war, the nation is left fractured with the rebel states continuing to resist and live under their own governance. South Carolina has been wiped out by an ineradicable disease set off by the federal government. Suicide bombers and terrorists are a facet of everyday life and bomb-dropping drones that can no longer be controlled randomly kill innocent people. It is the stuff of nightmares.
I don't want to give too much away but much of the book focuses on how circumstances can change us and the course of our lives. While it doesn't justify or excuse radical action, it offers a plausible explanation about how one individual can go from innocent to murderer. The characters are interesting and the story is heartbreaking. El Akkad offers very little in the way of hope or comfort.
BOTTOM LINE: Recommended. This wasn't pleasure reading but it was fascinating and thought-provoking. As we watch events unfold in the book, it is difficult not to draw parallels with some of what is happening around us today. We can only hope for a happier ending than El Akkad gives us.