Wednesday, August 2, 2017

American War

American War by Omar El Akkad, 333 pages.

When she was five, as the second American Civil War was about to begin, Sara T. Chestnut became “Sarat” due to a mistake made by her kindergarten teacher, reading her first name and middle initial all together. She stays Sarat because she likes the harsh sound of it. Sarat’s father Benjamin dies at the beginning of the war, as the red states of the deep south violently secede from the blue northern states over the banning of fossil fuels.  The book follows Sarat, her mother, sister and brother as they flee purple Louisiana into the deep red MAG (Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia), into the refugee camp, Camp Patience, that will be their home for several years. When the family is torn apart in the violence in that border camp we next see Sarat during her stint as a feared guerilla fighter, her subsequent incarceration and torture in a Northern prison, and her terrifying turn away from any possible peace with a horrifying final act. Akkad’s clear and believable story-telling shows a young girl coming of age in a time of unrelenting warfare. We see her turned into a weapon by her circumstances, her beliefs, and by those around her.  A harsh fable about the inevitability of revenge and terror; it is also about family and the stories we tell about ourselves. Dion Graham does an incredible job of narration.

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