Here is one of those books I think everyone should read. I don't think everyone will like it, and I'm not sure yet if I like it, but I am glad I read it.
Why I'm not sure whether I like it: It doesn't have a happy ending.
Really, Louise? That's what you're saying about this book, that it doesn't have a happy ending, and that's why you might not like it?
Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying. Why do we read fiction, anyway? Because we want a happy ending! Because our real lives don't have endings yet, and we know they have an equal chance of being unhappy and unhappy, and so we desperately want to read something that has a happy ending.
But, I mean, obviously, not every book has that happy ending. So why would we read it, anyway? And why might we say it's good, anyway? Here's why: They have an ending, and a middle, and a beginning, and a backstory, that all correspond with our understanding of the world. They have characters who seem so real, in situations that we can imagine ourselves in, behaving in ways that we know are true to life, and so we know better than to expect a happy ending. We know to expect a true ending. And that's what we get in this book.
Here's the blurb from Amazon:
Sarat Chestnut, born in Louisiana, is only six when the Second American Civil War breaks out in 2074. But even she knows that oil is outlawed, that Louisiana is half underwater, and that unmanned drones fill the sky. When her father is killed and her family is forced into Camp Patience for displaced persons, she begins to grow up shaped by her particular time and place. But not everyone at Camp Patience is who they claim to be. Eventually Sarat is befriended by a mysterious functionary, under whose influence she is turned into a deadly instrument of war. The decisions that she makes will have tremendous consequences not just for Sarat but for her family and her country, rippling through generations of strangers and kin alike.
Well done, blurb writers! You give us the general outlines without giving away the ending, which I apologize for doing, above. But I didn't really give it away. Of COURSE it doesn't have a happy ending. How could a story of a civil war, of a little girl who is "turned into a deadly instrument of war," of people on both sides of the civil war who kill and betray each other like they're turning over the burgers on a barbecue grill---how could that turn out happy?
The book is about war, so it's about conflict, betrayal, small people's lives being ruined by greedy men (yes, they're always men, and not only in this book), by lies and false loyalties and what it takes to get someone to betray his (yes, his) promises.
But do I recommend this book? Yes, I do. I think everyone should read it.
This is a first novel, which makes it even more remarkable. Who could write with this much knowledge and insight about everything from politics and history to life in refugee camps and along the river? Turns out that Omar El Akkad, the author, who was born in Egypt, grew up in Qatar, moved to Canada as a teenager, and now lives in the U.S. That's still not enough, though, right? He also was a reporter in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, among other places. So he knows whereof he speaks.
He has also had essays and short stories published. Here's a short story, "Trail," that you may be able to find online. (I haven't read it yet, but will read it before this post shows up online.)
He has a new book coming out soon: What Strange Paradise.