“This isn’t a story about war,” an anonymous narrator cautions in American‘s brief prologue. “It’s about ruin.” If the portentous title of Omar El Akkad’s debut can’t quite be trusted, its setting will certainly be familiar to any reader steeped in the broader, well-trod contours of Apocalypse Lit: a battle-wracked, ecologically exhausted wasteland in which nearly all human beings have become refugees.
Trapped in a brutal second Civil War, citizens of the now-divided States fight for survival in a bleak new world of too much (weather, weapons, political instability) and not enough (food, fresh water, freedom). At first none of it means much to Sarat, still a little girl when we meet her in St. James, La., circa 2075. But when the fight inevitably reaches her rural corner of the South, driving out her family and leaving bloody disaster in its wake, her life begins to turn toward a path of most resistance. El Akkad, a Cairo-born journalist, has an innate (and depressingly timely) feel for the textural details of dystopia; if only his grim near-future fantasy didn’t feel so much like a crystal ball. B+