Author of American War addresses climate change, draws on personal experiences

The MacVittie Union Hunt Room buzzed with excitement on Thursday March 28 as people waited to hear a talk from Omar El Akkad, author of American War. The book is about a family living in a future version of the United States where a second civil war has broken out, this time over climate change.

The talk was organized by Rochester Reads, a program that aims to connect people through reading and discussions about books that people in the community have read. Each year, Rochester Reads picks one book for the community to read, and then the author is invited to give a talk on it. El Akkad’s novel was the selection for this year.  

El Akkad began with a description of his book.

“The world in which that war takes place is a very different world, geographically, at the very least.  The world has been ravaged by climate change, Florida is underwater, the eastern sea board is under water, the capital has been moved inland from D.C. to Columbus, Ohio,” El Akkad said. “About 100 million people have also moved inland to get away from the storms and the rising seas, and long after it would do any good at all, the federal government decides to impose a prohibition on fossil fuels.”

El Akkad was born in Cairo, Egypt before he moved to Qatar and then Canada when he was 16 years old. He attended college in Canada and worked as a journalist for 10 years for the Toronto Globe and Mail. He now resides in Oregon.  

“I don’t think of it as a book about America. The America in which it takes place is an analogous place,” El Akkad said. “The northerners aren’t really northerners, the southerners aren’t really southerners, nothing in this book relates to how I think a literal second civil war would go down in this country. What I was trying to do was take things that are happening to people who don’t have much of a voice and cast them in the heart of the most powerful place on Earth.”

El Akkad also talked about his time as a journalist and his experiences working in Afghanistan as well as Guantanamo Bay. He explained that before he went to Afghanistan in late 2007, he had a very romanticized idea of what war was like. 

El Akkad said that it only took about three days to realize that his theoretical vision of war didn’t fit reality. He explained how bullets would fly through the camp every night and how many ceremonies were held for the fallen troops.  

In Guantanamo Bay, he explained what it was like to conduct media coverage for court hearings and how the media had to sit on the other side of the glass with a ten second delay so that information could be censored.  

El Akkad ended the talk by answering questions from the audience. The book will definitely make readers think about their place in society and what could happen if we do not start taking initiatives to begin caring for our planet soon.