Authorlink Audio Interview with Elliot Ackerman
Audio Length: 15 minutes
In Green on Blue, Elliot Ackerman made one of the most impressive fiction debuts in recent memory, garnering effusive critical praise and passionate reader response. Ackerman blends contemporary political themes with powerful character and story. His work has been compared in The New York Times and Washington Post to the work of Graham Greene and Ernest Hemingway. Fellow novelists were seized by the work, including Khaled Hosseini and Andres Dubus III who affirmed it as “one of the finest literary debuts I have ever witnessed.”
Now, Ackerman returns with DARK AT THE CROSSING (Knopf; on-sale January 24, 2017; Hardcover), a contemporary love story set on the Turkish border with Syria. Having spent nearly two years covering the Syrian Civil War for publications such as The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and The New Republic, Ackerman has watched first-hand this conflict’s spiral into darkness, creating characters that address both the timely—and timeless—themes which reoccur in the politics of revolution.
Set in the autumn of 2013 as the Syrian revolution wanes and the Islamic State rises, DARK AT THE CROSSING is the entangled story of an Iraqi-American intent on crossing the border to fight in Syria, and a Syrian couple scarred by the revolution and the loss of their only daughter. Haris Abadi—a man in search of a cause, who earned his American citizenship as an interpreter in Iraq, makes a failed attempt to cross the border—is taken in by Amir Khalifa, a charismatic Syrian refugee and former revolutionary, and his wife Daphne, a sophisticated beauty haunted by grief. Daphne, like Haris, wants to go back to Syria; Amir, like many of his fellow countrymen, is unwilling to make the journey and despondent over the unraveling revolution. As Daphne and Haris grow closer, a single choice emerges. Who will cross the border, and who will stay?
DARK AT THE CROSSING is an exploration of loss, of the destruction of a cause, and of second chances— a trenchantly observed novel of raw urgency and power.
About the Author
ELLIOT ACKERMAN Green on Blue is based out of Istanbul, where he has covered the Syrian Civil War since 2013. His writings have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New Republic, and The New York Times Magazine, among other publications, and his stories have been included in The Best American Short Stories. He is both a former White House Fellow and Marine and served five tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan where he received the Silver Star, the Bronze Star for Valor, and the Purple Heart. Learn more at www.elliotackerman.com.
DARK AT THE CROSSING: A Novel
By Elliot Ackerman
Alfred A. Knopf
On sale January 24th, 2017
Hardcover | $25.95 | 256 pages
Praise for DARK AT THE CROSSING
“Ackerman has done a masterful job of creating a novel of ideas that invites thoughtful consideration of the folly and futility of war and the failure of idealism . . . The text is beautifully written, and the rendering of the setting is superb. Dark at the Crossing makes a significant contribution to the literature of war.”
“Here is a thriller, psychological fiction, political intrigue, and even a love story all wrapped into a stunningly realistic and sometimes horrifying package. Put Ackerman on the A-list.”
“Dark at the Crossing is every bit as taut and harrowing as the place it depicts, a region where fifteen years of relentless war play out in filthy refugee camps and upscale shopping malls. Elliot Ackerman has written a brilliant, admirably merciless novel of broken lives, broken places, and good intentions gone awry.”
“Infused with profound knowledge, empathy, and chutzpah, Ackerman’s writing is hauntingly evocative and beautiful. It is a rare writer who is not afraid to deal with the toughest conflicts, ask the hardest questions, show the darkest side of even heroes, and still manage to renew our faith in humanity.”
“Elliot Ackerman’s quietly subversive sensibilities make him one of the most potent and original writers to emerge from that elite platoon of men and women who, since 9/11, have laid down their guns to pick up a pen. Once again, here in his second novel, Dark at the Crossing, Ackerman insists American readers immerse themselves in the humanity of their country’s enemies and victims. His work is a unique and bittersweet blessing of raw grace and naked, bleeding empathy.”
“Once again, Elliot Ackerman dares to imagine his way into the minds, lives, and fates of people too many American writers would judge as inaccessible—perhaps even forbidden. The result is a book whose emotional acuity is matched only by its literary artistry. They don’t award medals of valor to novelists, but while reading this book, I often thought, Maybe they should.”
“Welcome to a dark world illuminated by visions that the writer Elliot Ackerman has brought back from his wars, his journalistic investigations, and from his artist’s imagination. We see a professional soldier’s overused muscles, the smile of an Ivy League war-profiteer in his bathrobe, a Turkish woman’s seductive glamour—all with lifelike clarity. This novel makes us see and hear as if we are there, too close for comfort, as Ackerman’s hero and heroine are drawn, against any self-preserving logic, back across the border into the maelstrom of Syria. Can anyone make this dark crossing and remain true? Ackerman’s heroes try. Like Robert Stone’s A Flag for Sunrise, to which Ackerman’s novel bears comparison, both for its sophisticated understanding of current affairs and its grim realism, Dark at the Crossing is a disturbing report on the ancient paradox of war in which life and death, good and evil are intimately intertwined. After the bodies fall, the green grass grows over them. We look at the graves and ask, ‘What does it mean?’ In this stunning, grief-inspiring book, it seems to me that Ackerman confesses we do not know. I don’t think anyone can ask more of a piece of literature than this delivers.”
“A timely and unsettling novel . . . A stark and multifaceted portrait of the civil war in Syria.”
“Timely . . . Former Marine and current Middle East scholar Ackerman explores territory familiar to him but uncharted to most of us. Ackerman humanizes a war fraught with tragedy and seemingly without resolution.”
Praise for GREEN ON BLUE (2015)
“Green on Blue is a novel that conveys, with harrowing power, the fallout that decades of war has had on that country’s people, and at the same time, it’s a kind of Greek tragedy about the cycles of revenge and violence that can consume families and tribes, generation after generation…This novel as a whole attests to Mr. Ackerman’s breadth of understanding — an understanding not just of the seasonal rhythms of war in Afghanistan and the harsh, unforgiving beauty of that land, not just of the hardships of being a soldier there, but a bone-deep understanding of the toll that a seemingly endless war has taken on ordinary Afghans who have known no other reality for decades.”
—New York Times
“The chief pleasures of Ackerman’s novel derive from its striking descriptions of men at war…Like all novels written in skilled, unadorned prose about men and women of action, this novel will probably be compared to Hemingway’s work. In this case, however, the comparison seems unusually apt…Elliot Ackerman has done something brave as a writer and even braver as a soldier: He has touched, for real, the culture and soul of his enemy.”
—New York Times Book Review
“Comparisons can be drawn with For Whom the Bell Tolls, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and even Slumdog Millionaire…While most Americans writing about the desert wars explores the U.S. experience, Ackerman may be the first to devote his work to seeing beyond himself… The result is a work of imagination based on empathetic respect…He invites us to sit by the fire with Aziz and hear what his people aren’t able to say in our books about them.”
“Green on Blue is a standout both for its setting and for the austere grace of its prose. But what sets the novel apart in the annals of American war literature is its daring shift in perspective: It’s written not from the point of view of an American soldier, but that of an Afghan boy…With understated grandeur, a portrait of Afghanistan in microcosm takes shape, one in which profit and peace are at odds, lines of allegiance are constantly being redrawn, and coming-of-age entails a swift initiation into moral ambiguity and brutality…The result is compassionate, provocative, and alive to the tremendous narrative risk involved in taking on the gaze of the ‘other’: try imagining Apocalypse Now from the perspective of the South Vietnamese.”
“Ackerman is one of those gifted writers who can also do other things, having served five tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and earning a Purple Heart in the process. Such experience seeps into the prose, convincingly flowing from the perspective of Aziz, the younger of the siblings…It’s a spellbinding tale that puts the human face on unimaginable suffering and violence.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
“Ackerman…writes with empathy, authority, and integrity, telling an important story that is at once moving and, in its depiction of the futility of war, deeply depressing. Always insightful, the novel brings welcome clarity to the war in Afghanistan, a conflict that often seems incomprehensible; accordingly, Green on Blue belongs on the short shelf of truly memorable books about war.”
—Booklist, starred review
“Ackerman’s novel is bleak and uncompromising, a powerful war story that borders on the noir.”
“Ackerman writes in a deliberately flat style that emphasizes personalities rather than military action—and he does justice to the political and moral difficulties of contemporary Afghanistan.”
“Ackerman accomplishes a rare feat, crafting a novel that manages to be both fresh and true.”
—Los Angeles Review of Books
“Green on Blue is harrowing, brutal, and utterly absorbing. With spare prose, Ackerman has spun a morally complex tale of revenge, loyalty, and brotherly love. The saga of young Aziz is a chilling and often disturbing glimpse into one of the world’s most troubled regions.”
—Khaled Hosseini, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns, and And The Mountains Echoed
“Here, in his deeply compelling and poetically rendered first novel, Elliot Ackerman goes where few, if any, western novelists have gone before, deep into the private skin and heart of a young Afghan soldier who began as we all do, as a child. Green on Blue is more than just the page-turner it most certainly is; it is a naked and profound exploration of the ugly futility of war, and it is also one of the finest literary debuts I have ever witnessed. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.”
—Andre Dubus III, author of House of Sand and Fog and The Garden of Last Days
“This is the best novel of the Afghan-Iraq wars to date, striking a lyrical cord akin and equal in power to Hemingway’s “For Whom The Bell Tolls.” Elliot Ackerman captures both the deep brutality and the innate humanity of the Afghan Pashtun world and its collision with the west in clear, cold strokes. This fearless and pitch perfect first novel is a heart-breaking wonder.”
—Admiral James Stavridis, USN (Ret), former NATO Supreme Allied Commander and Dean of The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University
“What makes Green on Blue so brilliantly poignant is Elliot Ackerman’s feeling of empathy, his ability to get under his characters’ skin, reminding us not only of our vast differences but of our shared common humanity.”—Azar Nafisi, national bestseller of Reading Lolita in Tehran
“If we’re looking for answers–and after fourteen years of war we damn well better be–Elliot Ackerman’s brilliant, audacious novel is an excellent place to start. For so many years the war has been about “us” and “them,” but Green on Blue blows open the standard narrative by showing just how fluid and fraught that distinction can be. If we’re tempted to think this war has been simple and clean, Ackerman’s unflinching novel should wake us up to the messy, heartbreaking reality of it all.”
—Ben Fountain, award-winning author of Billy Lynn’s Long Half-Time Walk and Brief Encounters with Che Guevara
“In all too many accounts of the Afghan War, the Afghan people caught in the cross-fire are rendered invisible. Elliot Ackerman’s eye-opening Green on Blue places them front and center, taking us into the life of a Pashtun orphan navigating the impossible choices offered to him by the brutal realities of his war-torn country. An incisive and moving glimpse into the human consequences of decades of conflict.”—Phil Klay, National Book Award Winning author of Redeployment
“Green on Blue is a remarkable achievement, a novel of war, betrayal, love, and honor that feels equally timeless and timely. Aleksander Solzhenitsyn once wrote that the line dividing good and evil doesn’t run between nations, but through every human heart. Elliot Ackerman traces that shifting line with enormous empathy and intelligence.”
—Anthony Marra, award-winning author of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
“Elliot Ackerman, a former Marine deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, has performed that most difficult of all military operations – the achievement of radical empathy. In Green on Blue he has entered the world and the consciousness of a young Afghan soldier, one who is orphaned, impoverished and placed under the obligation of revenge. In doing so, Ackerman has brought to us a new understanding of the the complicated layers within Afghanistan’s tribal society, and the penetrating beauty of that country’s landscape. This is a brave and impressive debut. “
—Roxana Robinson, award-winning author of Sparta and Cost
“Like The Thin Red Line‘s Guadalcanal, Green on Blue‘s Shkin is one war’s heart, marked by loss, ambition, blood. Only Ackerman (a veteran, like Jones) isn’t channeling the American view; his extraordinary empathy marks this novel as something more than brilliant. It is brave.”
—Lea Carpenter, author of Eleven Days
“With a tension and tenderness reminiscent of Graham Greene, Elliot Ackerman’s gripping novel of revenge and honor deftly reveals the complex machinations of a too often oversimplified war.”
—Alexander Maksik, author of You Deserve Nothing and A Marker to Measure Drift
“Elliot Ackerman’s Green on Blue is as good a book as you are likely to find on men at war. It is full of insight, compassion, and extraordinarily beautiful writing. I could not recommend this novel more highly.”—Kevin Powers, award-winning author of Yellow Birds
Behind the Book: DARK AT THE CROSSING
The notion of this novel began at dinner with a friend, a Syrian revolutionary turned refugee. We sat at an open-air café in Gaziantep, or Antep as the locals call it, an industrial city in southern Turkey. His wife was meant to join us but she had called and they’d had an argument. “I was unfaithful and she’s never forgiven me,” he said as they hung up. He then explained that the infidelity was not with another woman but with the revolution: its ideals, its excitement, all that he had sacrificed for it, too much, abandoning the emotional core of his marriage for what ultimately became a lost cause.
A revolution, like a marriage, is a journey of the heart. Marriage is letting go of two separate worlds to create a single shared one. When a marriage dissolves, a couple is forced to reimagine their world, to start again. In these pages, I have endeavored to tell the story of the Syrian civil war, a failed revolution, through the more familiar lens of a failed marriage.
Dark at the Crossing is an exploration of grief—the death of a child, the destruction of a cause, the individual’s search to assuage the loss. Having spent nearly three years covering the Syrian Civil War, I have watched that conflict’s spiral into darkness. I have witnessed the central choice of any failed revolution, any failed relationship: whether to accept what’s ruined and begin anew or to keep faith with an increasingly hopeless cause.
What you hold in your hands is my best attempt to make sense of that impossible choice.