A timely novel about tension at the border between Turkey and Syria—and about the personal costs involved in trying to join the conflict in the Middle East.
Although Haris Abadi was born in Iraq, he moved to the United States and became a citizen after the first Iraq War. When the novel begins, he has returned to the Middle East, fueled by restlessness and by a newfound idealism: he finds himself drawn to “the establishment of a free and democratic Syria,” and this involves a commitment to remove Bashar al-Assad from power. So now, from a backwater town in southern Turkey, he’s trying to get into Syria to fight with the Free Syrian Army. Unfortunately, the mysterious man who’d recruited him to fight (and with whom he’s only communicated via email) is not being responsive. Haris is stopped unceremoniously at the border and informed that it’s closed. This incident sets in motion the rest of Ackerman’s narrative, for while the war in Syria remains close but abstract, the journey across the Turkish-Syrian border is immediate and problematic. He links up with Saied and Athid, two unsavory types who promise him safe passage, but they sell him out to the border guards, yet one more example of the difficulty and corruption Haris faces as he tries to cross the border. The drama intensifies when he meets up with Amir and Amir’s beautiful wife, Daphne, who have lost a daughter in the fighting around Aleppo. While Amir tries to make arrangements (via strategic use of bribery) to ensure Haris’ safe passage into Syria, Daphne faces a difficult decision: to remain with her husband or to stay with Haris on his quest to enter Syria and thus return to Aleppo. As he did in his first novel, Green on Blue (2015), 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.