A nation divided

Sarat Chestnut, born in Louisiana, is only six when the Second American Civil War breaks out in 2074. But even she knows that oil is outlawed, that Louisiana is half underwater, that unmanned drones fill the sky. And when her father is killed and her family is forced into Camp Patience for displaced persons, she quickly begins to be shaped by her particular time and place until, finally, through the influence of a mysterious functionary, she is turned into a deadly instrument of war. Telling her story is her nephew, Benjamin Chestnut, born during war – part of the Miraculous Generation – now an old man confronting the dark secret of his past, his family’s role in the conflict and, in particular, that of his aunt, a woman who saved his life while destroying untold others.

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As diverting a read as this engrossing novel is, American War should no doubt also be read as a cautionary tale.

El Akkad’s formidable talent is to offer up a stinging rebuke of the distance with which the United States sometimes views current disasters, which are always happening somewhere else. Not this time.

“American War” is a deeply unsettling novel. The only comfort the story offers is that it’s a work of fiction. For the time being, anyway.