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Fantastic book: American War, by Omar El Akkad

I’m in the middle of a book that I have to finish before book group tomorrow night, and it has some passages so astonishing that I feel they’re worthy of sharing. The book is American War, by Omar El Akkad.

Set in the late 21st century, the premise is that a second civil war has made Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia secede (again). The war was caused by those states’ rejection of a federal order banning fossil fuels after climate change has made the seas rise to the point where the U.S. map is dramatically altered—Florida is gone, as is New Orleans; the federal capital has moved inland to Columbus, OH; South Carolina is literally walled off as a quarantine zone, to contain a slow-acting plague; and a fast-acting plague, released as a purposeful terroristic act, has already killed more than 100 million people. The conflict is framed as Blues vs. Reds.


In one passage, the main character is considering what it means to defect from a refugee camp and head out to try to make a life in less-violent enemy (Northern Blue) territory, when the enemy is the strongest side in the war, by far. She thinks this (page 134):

...[P]erhaps the longing for safety was itself just another kind of violence—a violence of cowardice, silence, submission. What was safety, anyway, but the sound of a bomb falling on someone else’s home?


Shortly after that, her teacher walks her through this conversation exercise, which she repeats until memorized (page 136):

What is the first anesthetic?


And if I take your wealth?


And if I demolish your home, burn your fields?


And if I make it taboo to sympathize with your plight?


And if I kill your family?


And God...

...Hasn’t said a word in two thousand years.

Good girl.

I mean, this is striking stuff. And it was written by a man who was born in Egypt, raised in Qatar, and later lived in Canada. That he has captured this specific flavor of intra-American Us vs. Them so well is just amazing to me, he did a great job. I am 180 pages in and have 140 pages to go, and wish I didn’t have to work today, would rather stay home and read!

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