Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Trailer Park Tuesday: American War by Omar El Akkad

Near the beginning of American War by Omar El Akkad, Sarat Chestnut tells us she is, among other things, a hoarder of postcards and a chronicler of war. These two elements of the narrator’s life converge in the very first paragraph:
When I was young, I collected postcards. I kept them in a shoebox under my bed in the orphanage. Later, when I moved into my first home in New Anchorage, I stored the shoebox at the bottom of an old oil drum in my crumbling tool-shed. Having spent most of my life studying the history of war, I found some sense of balance in collecting snapshots of the world that was, idealized and serene.
Many of us feel like we’ve lived with war our entire lives (and, indeed, some high school students have known nothing but a numbing cycle of battle and blood, battle and blood), but Sarat lives in a world nearly 60 years in the future when war has been joined by plague, flood, and refugee camps as threats to the American way of life (whatever that’s turning out to be these days...). Emily St. John Mandel, author of Station Eleven, says American War “has an air of terrible relevance in these partisan times.” She knows what she’s talking about since Station Eleven is also a terribly relevant prediction of our apocalyptic future. In the trailer for American War, Akkad says when he wrote the novel, he little imagined we might very well be living in the prologue by the publication date (next month). Still, little in American War should come as a surprise to readers. “Nothing in this book hasn’t happened,” Akkad says. “It just happened to other people and it happened far away.” We should no longer go around in our comfortable American bubble, falsely safe in thinking “it can’t happen here.” American War delivers battle and blood to our front porch, then rings the doorbell.

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