This is a series of reviews of my favorite books published between 2010 and 2019.

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American War by Omar El Akkad (2017)

There are two things that books can do that as a reader I live for: one is to create a world that I can completely inhabit in my imagination, and the other is to challenge me to look at our world in a different way. American War succeeds at both of these. Set in the near future after the country has started experiencing the devastating effects of climate change, the book depicts the second American Civil War when the MAG (Mississippi-Alabama-Georgia) refuses to follow a law forbidding all use of fossil fuels. (I’ll leave it to the reader to find out what happens to South Carolina.) Sarat grows up during this war, going from child to refugee to insurrectionist to detainee to a bitter and broken woman. Sarat is a character I absolutely loved, a woman who completely belongs to herself but is irrevocably broken by the horrors she experiences. With its science-fictional depiction of familiar horrors from our own unending wars in the Middle East–drones impersonally dropping death, “homicide” bombers, waterboarding–this novel helps us to see our “enemies” in a different way, and perhaps empathize with them.

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