American War by Omar El Akkad (Arthur C Clarke Award Shortlist)

American War is a funny sort of a book, in many ways it doesn’t feel like a science fiction novel at all. Like the others in the shortlist this year, the focus is very much on the personal interactions of a small core of protagonists. The Scifi element comes from the setting. As the title indicates and the books blurb the book revolves around the second American Civil War. 51LNo-HO0AL

Following sweeping anti-fossil fuel laws are introduced following rampant global warming the friction between the North and the South is rekindled. During this, we follow a family caught on the outskirts of the conflict and eventually drawn into it. The novels main protagonist is not very endearing and the author experiments with that fine line between freedom fighter and terrorist. Many of the scenes reminded me of the ragtag rebels in Syria seen on the news or the other informal armies of the Middle-East and Afghanistan, which is not surprising given the author’s background as a reporter in Afghanistan and during the Arab Spring in Egypt.

The middle part of the book drags a little, losing its way in terms of plot but picks up once the narrative switches to a younger protagonist. This new narrative revives the story and helps put a new perspective on what is happening.

The idea of the war was not entirely convincing, I could understand the underlying politics but am unsure the actions and reactions of the various parties would have led to such a war, but then I guess that’s what inventing a new universe is about. Chapter interludes given as historical reports or government testimonies helped to give depth and richness to the story but much more was needed to fully understand what people were fighting for.

As an insight as to how America could change the book did not deliver but as a story about how a person can be drawn into a war and become bitterly consumed by the circumstances they encounter.

You can find ‘American War’ at all good booksellers. More information can be found at Picador.



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