Recently read: American War, by Omar El Akkad
23 April, 2017 • Viktor Bengtsson • 2 minutes to read
Happy World Book Day! I celebrated the day with finishing a wonderful book - American War, by Omar El Akkad.
Picking a book from Amazon on the fly - without getting to deep into reading about the author and his or her prior works - is as close as I get to that teenage feeling of discovering a musty page-turner on the shelf of the local library.
American War was such a book. I came to it with no expectations or preconceptions, and I left it in awe.
Not your average dystopia
Omar El Akkad manages lay bare several themes in a story so forcefully plotted that it sucks the reader onwards in it's slipstream.
- The North-South division in the United States, past, present and future.
- Sectarian warfare and it's emotional logic.
- Growing up in a war, and to a war.
- Torture, terror, and displacement.
For all their specificity, what's striking is not that the author has something new to say on each on these topics, rather he seems to want us to stop and think again. Around 50 pages into the book I can almost hear him tell his blasé reader (me) - "Wait, listen, you haven't really understood this. Let me tell you a story from this persons perspective."
Picking an audience
For an American audience, I imagine that this book tells a more effective story about America's foreign wars than any report from a distant front ever could. El Akkad seems to play out any number of wars of the global South, but this time set in the American south.
To a reader from the south, the novel brings war back home. To a more northern liberal reader, the choice of setting highlights similarities between the domestic and foreign "other". Although set decades into the future, it is not a stretch to consider the book a reflection of current divisions in the American political landscape.
The more common thematic fare of the book - personal loss, intra-familial tension, love, sex etc. are treated with almost professional brutality. Clean incisions that lay bare the deep tissue emotions. No cardboard cutouts, Omar El Akkad's characters enter the story fully formed, and leave it deformed by war, but still very much human.
Put this book on your reading list for 2017. I will say no more.