American War by Omar El Akkad Book Review
The futuristic, cautionary tale of American War is a riveting novel by Omar El Akkad, set in the late 21st century. One-third of the way into the story, I have determined American War to be enlightening, and an unnervingly accurate prediction of the overreaching effects climate change may have on society.
While reading this novel, I often make mental notes of the various social, political and environmental issues that are brought to light. These topics repeatedly spark compelling questions, which circulate through my mind, in search of answers. However, I often find myself revisiting just one question. The enduring question that antagonizes my thinking is one that I wish to ask the author of this thought-provoking novel.
What particular event inspired you to include so many global issues in your novel?
Three different aspects from the novel helped me to formulate this question: politics, climate change, and social issues. While it is difficult to create a fictional world of one without the others, I get a feeling from the way El Akkad represents these issues in his writing, that there is something more to his intentions than just what meets the eye.
American War takes a scalpel to American politics, precisely dissecting it to see what would happen to Americans if their policies were turned against them. Five chapters into the novel, I notice political divisions between the north and south have been amplified - worsened by the destabilizing effects of climate change. Political assassinations, biological weapons, militarized borders, and displaced refugees, have become the defining features of a divided national life. With that in mind, it makes me wonder… What exactly was El Akkad’s inspiration to pinpoint politics in his novel of despair and destruction?
Next, climate change plays a very important role in American War. The novel not-so-subtly warns mankind of the fact that currently, we are headed down the same path of ruin as the characters in the story. El Akkad describes futuristic environmental issues many times, such as on page 23: “Let the Southerners keep their outdated fuel, she thought, until they’ve pulled every last drop of it from the beaten ground”. I believe that this quote was written to resemble the current fossil fuel and climate change problem we are facing today. Akkad further advances the narrative of the possible effects of climate change in another quote on page 23, when Sarat is comparing the outdated map of the world to the current one: “The new maps looked like the old ones, but with the edges of the land shaved off—whole islands are gone, coastlines retreating into their continents. In the old maps America looked bigger”. There are many quotes like these in the novel that frequently make me ponder Akkad’s reasoning for tackling yet another important issue.
The last pertinent issue that led me to formulate my big question relates to social concerns. In modern times, significant social issues that are frequently discussed have to do with racial and gender inequality. In the novel however, social hierarchy is constructed along lines of geography and class. Thus far in the novel, there is still a Democratic and a Republican party, but no one raises concerns or talks about race anymore. El Akkad describes the novel’s protagonist as having “fuzzy” hair and a dark skin tone, while her father’s skin was a “caramel” shade… but the Chestnuts don’t claim any ethnicity at all. Perhaps El Akkad envisions an America where the races are so intermingled they can’t be distinguished. In his version of the future, no one even seems to remember that race was once a cornerstone of American identity.
Since all of these topics are very prominent in American War, I can’t help but wonder why Omar El Akkad chose to include all of these issues in such a strikingly prominent manner.
What inspired him? I am dying to know.