A memoir of the war you can’t leave behind.
For Ackerman (Waiting for Eden, 2018, etc.), a former Marine who earned the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, and the Purple Heart, and so many of the others he met during his return to the battlefronts of the Middle East, there was no good reason for them to be drawn back there other than the feeling that war had given their lives purpose and that civilian life offered no fulfilling substitute. “If purpose is the drug that induces happiness,” he writes, “there are few stronger doses than the wartime experience.” The equation of war with happiness may jolt readers who haven’t seen combat, but the power of this memoir comes from the author’s illumination of paradoxes and contradictions that provide a common emotional denominator for soldiers who previously found themselves in wars where they discovered more than two sides. “For a moment we sit, three veterans from three different sides of a war that has no end in sight,” writes Ackerman of his bonding with two friends who might have been categorized as Muslim terrorists, one of whom would later ask him to be best man at his wedding. “Not the Syrian Civil War, or the Iraq War, but a larger regional conflict,” one in which they discovered “a unifying thread between us: friendships born out of conflict, the strongest we’ve ever known.” Throughout the poignant narrative there is a sense that the Americans for whom the author has fought have misunderstood the Muslims that he has fought against and that the boundaries dating back to the colonial era have never reflected the ethnic geography of those who inhabit the region. A story in which Ackerman made new friends and confronted old ghosts culminates in a flashback to the Battle of Fallujah and his memories of what took place.
A profoundly human narrative that transcends nationality and ideology.