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Chris Blocker

Literary snobbery and other thoughts by Chris Blocker

Review: American War

American War - Omar El Akkad

People are eating this novel up right now. They're devouring it whole with a little plantation sugar mixed in. And that's to be expected, right? Marketers know that right now they can sell any dystopian vision of America. They can sell twenty- or sixty-year-old books that allude to our current state of politics. They're grasping for any connection. What better book to have on the market right now than this one? It's called American War, for crying out loud. But if you're looking for a prophetic vision, this probably isn't it. (For that, I'd recommend The Book of Joan: a strange, otherworldly book that somehow manages to nail many of our current fears.)

American War is a good novel and a decent war story, but it isn't necessarily the most inventive one. Frankly, the Second American Civil War, a war that starts in 2074, sounds far too much like the first Civil War. North versus south in a war started over prohibition of the South's livelihood. The difference is that in 2074, it's its reliance on fossil fuels that ignites the powder keg. Much about this war seems so familiar. Out of rebellion, the South secedes and they're fixin' ta have a war with dem Blues. What year are we in again? Apparently the 1860s because ain't no women folk fightin' this here war either. So it seems to me that this novel fails to be that inventive prophecy of the world we shall inherit from the President (unless the current American President is Andrew Jackson).

All that aside, American War has a good story arc and some wonderful characters. The protagonist, a girl/woman who goes by the name of Sarat, is a fireball. She carries considerable hatred on her shoulders, but tries to keep love in her heart. Her sister is easy to empathize with. Her mentor is interesting and complex. And these characters, along with others, are placed on a path laid with precision. The path may lead more to the past than it does the future, but either way it's an interesting path.