A dystopian vision of a future United States undone by civil war and plague.
El Akkad’s debut novel is set during the tail end of the 21st century, with the North and South at it again. Southern states have taken up arms to protest a Northern ban on fossil fuels, and the war-torn secessionist “Mag” (Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia) has forced civilians to herd in refugee camps. (South Carolina, attacked by a weaponized virus, is “a walled hospice.”) Among the refugees is Sarat, who as a young girl in 2075 escaped a much-diminished Louisiana (climate change has swallowed the coasts) with her family to what seems like an endless occupation. But in the years tracked by the novel, Sarat becomes a daring young woman who leads a resistance against the Northern military. El Akkad, a journalist who’s reported from hot spots in the war on terror, has a knack for the language of officialdom: news reports, speeches, history books, and the like that provide background for the various catastrophes that have befallen the country. And he’s cannily imagined Sarat, who is at once a caring daughter and sibling, freedom fighter, and sponge for the wisdom of one old-timer who dispenses tales about occupations decades past. But above all, El Akkad’s novel is an allegory about present-day military occupation, from drone strikes to suicide bombers to camps full of refugees holding “keys to houses that no longer existed in towns long ago deserted.” He imagines this society in some creative ways: battles royal are major entertainments in an internet-free society, and Sarat’s brother becomes an interesting and peculiar folk hero after he’s injured. But El Akkad mainly means to argue that these future miseries exist now overseas.
A well-imagined if somber window into social collapse.