Review by Grady Harp
American author Elliot Ackerman currently lives in Istanbul and writes on the Syrian Civil War. He has served five tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan and is the recipient of the Silver Star, the Bronze Star for Valor, and the Purple Heart. A former White House Fellow, his essays and fiction have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New Republic, and Ecotone, among others. With this background it should come as no surprise that GREEN ON BLUE, his debut novel. Is one of the most powerful examinations of war – both as a useless means of resolution and as a autopsy of the vicious cruelties war imposes on both soldier form the country of clash, form outside country troops, and most important, on the people of the decimated battleground.
Attempting to write a critique of this brilliant book is fraught with problems. For those of us who have been in wars it is a devastating reminder of the misery and irreparable damage war inflicts on everyone – a memory kick that is difficult to inhale. But the writing is so extraordinarily fine – especially Elliott’s ability to create the language and atmosphere of Afghanistan is such a clear and uncompromising way. It is also to his credit that he places the role of the American soldiers in the Afghan war in a true light. And his election to make the story a schism of brothers polarized by the vagaries of that war is a stroke of writing genius.
For those yet to explore this novel, the synopsis is as follows: ‘Aziz and his older brother Ali are coming of age in a village amid the pine forests and endless mountains of eastern Afghanistan. There is no school, but their mother teaches them to read and write, and once a month sends the boys on a two-day journey to the bazaar. They are poor, but inside their mud-walled home, the family has stability, love, and routine. When a convoy of armed men arrives in their village one day, their world crumbles. The boys survive and make their way to a small city, where they sleep among other orphans. They learn to beg, and, eventually, they earn work and trust from the local shopkeepers. Ali saves their money and sends Aziz to school at the madrassa, but when US forces invade the country, militants strike back. A bomb explodes in the market, and Ali is brutally injured. In the hospital, Aziz meets an Afghan wearing an American uniform. To save his brother, Aziz must join the Special Lashkar, a US-funded militia. No longer a boy, but not yet a man, he departs for the untamed border. Trapped in a conflict both savage and entirely contrived, Aziz struggles to understand his place. Will he embrace the brutality of war or leave it behind, and risk placing his brother–and a young woman he comes to love–in jeopardy?’
Elliott Ackerman, in his first novel, establishes himself as a writer of great distinction. This book deserves attention – and awards. Highly Recommended.
TITLE: GREEN ON BLUE
AUTHOR: ELLIOTT ACKERMAN