It is approximately half a century in our future. Climate change has altered the coasts of the United States, wiping out much of Florida and Louisiana. Amid these changes, the Second American Civil War breaks out. While the issue of slavery drove the original Civil War, southern state refusal to accept a federal ban on fossil fuels stokes the fires of the second. Yet, the issues are more complex beyond any single cause. Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi form a core of secession, Texas becomes reabsorbed by Mexico, and South Carolina suffers as ground zero in the release of a plague engineered by the North, leaving the state quarantined. Fracturing, the South becomes desperate, fueled by hatred. With an urge to end the last remnants of resistance as quickly as possible, the North retaliates with equal hate and ferocity.
Omar El Akkad’s American War begins with the narrator introducing us to six-year-old Sarat Chestnut, born amid this national chaos in the remains of Louisiana. This narrator, who is only identified by the close of the novel, explains that they only knew Sarat later in her life, after her innocence was lost and she had played a major role in the South getting its revenge. They feel the need to begin her story before that tragedy, before the US fell into greater ruin, before the Chestnuts lost their patriarch and the surviving family members became refugees, before Sarat fell down her personal path of despair leading her to monstrosity. And so the narrator begins with the brief, nigh unimaginable time when Sarat may actually have known peace and happiness. [Read more…]