American War is bleak. It is depressing. It shares a strong message that we need to change, that we need to avoid another American Civil War at all costs. Although it is set in the United States, this country is our closest neighbour, we not only share a long border but our trade and economy is closely linked. The novel is eerily timely as the current American president puts democracy and safety at risk as he eggs on his enemies and tweets inappropriate comments like an uniformed zealot. This book is a wake up call to protect and appreciate the environment that supports our food, water and well-being. American war is not a book that I would likely have chosen if it were not for Canada Reads but it is a book that I am still thinking about!
American War was a difficult book to get into. It was slow reading for the first half. It took time to get to know the main character Sarat and the Chestnut family that was devastated when war broke out in the year 2074. It took time for the story to build and for the reader to gain an understanding of the future described by El Akkad.
After living in Camp Patience, a refugee camp, Sarat meets a mentor and becomes involved in the resistance leading to revenge, despair, loss and torture. Her character dramatically changes from the rough and tumble 6 year old that readers first meet to a woman who becomes a focused weapon against the Blue North. It is important to think about the way traumatic experiences can mold and change individuals.
The second half of the book draws the reader in and leaves them thinking about war, the environment and the final choices Sarat makes. It helps readers to imagine a future impacted by selfish choices, environmental destruction and the despair that individuals in other countries experience every day while readers enjoy the benefits of living in Canada.
There has been much discussion about the relevance to Canada Reads since the book is set in the US and I have to agree that while the connection to our southern neighbours is strong, I feel that a more direct Canadian story might have fit the debates better. Having said this, the novel is a warning and anything that happens to the South will have an impact on Canada. It is also a novel that should open the eyes of readers to think about the possible future if we do not make changes and care for our environment and our neighbours.
American War is a heavy read. It is not easy. It is not happy. It describes a future that is not bright but it is a book to open your eyes!