Shortlisted for the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize
An audacious and powerful debut novel: a second American Civil War, a devastating plague, and one family caught deep in the middle -- a story that asks what might happen if America were to turn its most devastating policies and deadly weapons upon itself.
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 as one of the Miraculous Generation and 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.
OMAR EL AKKAD, formerly of the Globe and Mail, is an award-winning journalist and author who has travelled around the world to cover many of the most important news stories of the last decade. His reporting includes dispatches from the NATO-led war in Egypt and the Black Lives Matter movement in Ferguson, Missouri. He is a recipient of the National Newspaper Award for investigative reporting for his coverage on the "Toronto 18" terrorism arrests. He has also received the Goff Penny Memorial Prize for Young Journalists, as well as three National Magazine Award honourable mentions. He is a graduate of Queen's University.
Shortlisted for the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize
"American War is an extraordinary novel. El Akkad's story of a family caught up in the collapse of an empire is as harrowing as it is brilliant, and has an air of terrible relevance in these partisan times." —Emily St. John Mandel
"El Akkad has fashioned a surprisingly powerful novel—one that creates as haunting a postapocalyptic universe as Cormac McCarthy . . . and as devastating a look at the fallout that national events have on an American family as Philip Roth . . ." —New York Times
"American War is a worthy first novel, thought-provoking, earnest and mostly well-wrought. It is at its best depicting the lives of ordinary people caught up in terrible circumstances and how those ordinary people are, in the crosshairs of crisis and terrible circumstances, forever changed, and how some can become extraordinary or at least affect history. . . . 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." —Los Angeles Times
American War is Omar El Akkad's first novel and it is masterful. Both the story and the writing are lucid, succinct, powerful and persuasive." —Globe and Mail
"This is not a comforting political message for Americans, whose homeland has largely remained free of the chaos and bloodshed experienced by other nations in the modern age. But comfort is exactly what El Akkad is writing against. . . . What if it happened here? American War asks us to imagine the uncomfortable." —Toronto Star
"El Akkad demonstrates a profound understanding of the corrosive culture of civil war, the offenses that give rise to new hypocrisies and mythologies, translating terrorists into martyrs and acts of despair into feats of heroism." —Washington Post
"El Akkad, an Egyptian-born journalist who's covered the war on terror, has a knack for giving [the language of opression] as much of a heartbeat as possible. His imagined speeches, transcripts, history-book passages, censored letters and news stories feel accurate while highlighting institutional deceptions and omissions." —Mark Athitakis, Star Tribune
"It's a compelling narrative, one matched—surpassed, actually—by El Akkad's flawlessly executed backstory. Any dystopian novel is read as both story and the author's take on the present; this one, with its straight-line extrapoloation, not just from now but from the first Civil War, will be evaluated for its history as well. American War—its title, as slowly becomes apparent, is beautifully apt—covers past and present very well indeed." —Maclean's
"El Akkad, a Cairo-born journalist, has an innate (and depressingly timely) feel for the textural details of dystopia; if only his grim near-future fantasy didn't feel so much like a crystal ball." —EW
"Whether read as a cautionary tale of partisanship run amok, an allegory of past conflicts or a study of the physchology of war, 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." —New York Times
“American War, a work of a singular, grand, brilliant imagination, is a warning shot across the bow of the United States. Omar El Akkad has created a novel that isn’t afraid to be a pleasurable yarn as it delves into the hidden currents of American culture and extrapolates from them to envision a deeply tragic potential future.” —David Means, author of Hystopia
“Omar El Akkad’s urgent debut transmutes our society’s current dysfunction into a terrifying yet eerily recognizable future, where contemporary global and local conflicts have wreaked havoc on American soil. The threads between today and that future are his masterfully shaped characters. Their resilience, savagery, and humanity serve both as a portrait of who we are but also what we might very well become.” —Elliot Ackerman, author of Dark at the Crossing
“Omar El Akkad has created an American future that is both terrifying and plausible. In a world seared and flooded by global warming, the U.S. has fractured again into North and South. The barbarism that ensues is all the more awful because we know the rivers and the cities. And we know these people: they are our neighbors; they are us. Through the eyes of a young girl El Akkad lets us see the soul-crushing toll of war. It was only in the stunned minutes after I’d finished the novel that I realized he had also taught us how to make a consummate terrorist.”
—Peter Heller, author of The Dog Stars and Celine
"American War avoids being a polemic. Its characters are too vivid and contradictory, its twists of plot too well constructed, for the novel to settle for familiar and obvious messages." —San Francisco Chronicle