American War, the debut novel from Omar El Akkad, has the makings of a great story: a country beleaguered by civil war, ravaged by climate change and natural disasters, and a broken, complicated character weaving her way throughout. Sounds good, right? I thought so, too, but after finishing the novel, I’m so underwhelmed. I found it to be a half-baked dystopian story that tried to use elements like war and disaster to spark intrigue, when really they were garnishes that could have been easily tossed to the side. In fact the two were kind of downplayed to the point I never stopped to meditate on these events.
When it became clear that El Akkad wasn’t writing a thriller, the story tried to become a character piece, and it flatlined for me. The characters never made sense, especially the main character, Sarat, because we didn’t get to deep dive into what made her character who she was. It seemed like you would flip the page and suddenly she’s someone new. I had a hard time understanding her motives regarding anything … and it wasn’t because she was mysterious, I think she’s just simply underdeveloped.
Overall, just a disappointing novel to me because I don’t think it even challenged the complexities and ideologies of war. I think there were moments where El Akkad wanted to take on those ideas but simply held the idea, looked at it, and put it back on the shelf. I think I kept reading with hope, but I was sorely let down.