American War

by Omar El Akkad

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Last Updated on September 13, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 450


Born into a world at war, Benjamin is a sensitive child who responds with empathy to his aunt’s tales of trauma and suffering. But the close relationship he has with his aunt is ruined when, as an older man, he is made aware of her involvement in the genocide of millions of innocent people. As a historian, he destroys most of Sarat’s journals, preserving only a single page as a memento.


As a child, Sarat is determined to preserve her innocent worldview in the face of political discord. This is evidenced by her refusal to accept the fact of her father’s demise until long after the fact. She is later hardened by the near starvation she endures in Camp Patience and is radicalized by her experiences of Northern atrocities when troops invade the camp. Recruited to the Southern cause by Gaines, she fights well for the South, even killing an important Northern general. After she is captured, however, she suffers a seven-year period of imprisonment and torture, much of it inflicted by the infamous Budd Baker. During this time, Sarat’s hateful views of her enemies and her now-nihilistic worldview are confirmed. She is not altogether lost to morality, in that she later decides to allow Baker’s family to escape, though she takes revenge on Baker by killing him. She also thinks first of caring for her nephew, Benjamin—in arranging his safe passage to Alaska—before she takes part in the murder of millions of people.


Dana is Sarat’s sister and companion through the ordeal of living in Camp Patience. Dana’s death in a Northern air strike fills Sarat with despair.


Simon is Sarat’s older brother. He is shot in the head by a Northern soldier during the attack on Camp Patience, and though he survives, he is tormented for some time afterward by the bullet’s remaining in his head. He is cared for by Karina, with whom he falls in love. The pair eventually marry and have a son, Benjamin.

Albert Gaines

Gaines is a rebel recruiter who is passionate about his political cause. He betrays Sarat to the enemy, though she does not take revenge on him when she has the opportunity later in the novel.


Originally from Bangladesh, Karina has a genuine affection for Simon and is a protective mother to her son, as demonstrated by her confronting Sarat over Sarat’s treatment of Benjamin.


Joe is an agent of the Free Southern States who believes the way to win the war is to cause disunity among the Northern states. He is instrumental in planning the release of a deadly virus and enlists Sarat’s help in this venture.

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