THE FIFTH ACT

AMERICA'S END IN AFGHANISTAN

Courage and folly, dedication and tragedy: Ackerman deftly captures all dimensions of a protracted foreign policy failure.

Making sense of chaos is never easy, but this powerful book does much to explain why America’s debacle in Afghanistan ended the way it did.

Ackerman, who spent years in the region as a frontline soldier and later as a CIA paramilitary officer, brings firsthand experience of combat as well as a knowledge of classical literature to the story. He is also the author of multiple acclaimed works of fiction and nonfiction, including Green on Blue, Places and Names, and Red Dress in Black & White. In his latest, Ackerman focuses on the final week of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, when a flood of Afghans clamored to evacuate. The fifth act of the book’s title, this period encompassed the climax and denouement of the ordeal—and, much like the events of the previous 20 years, it was a catastrophic mess. The author tried to help old friends and their families escape, working with a network of other veterans and in-country players. Adding a sense of bizarre surrealism, he did most of this by phone while on a family holiday, trying to shield them from the unfolding disaster. The attack at the Kabul airport, which killed more than 180 people, added another layer of mayhem. “If it wasn’t clear already,” Ackerman writes, “after the bombing at Abbey Gate it becomes evident that the Biden administration has handled the evacuation of Afghanistan with an exceptional degree of incompetence.” However, it’s clear the author could not walk away, and he explains why in chapters about his time in the field, fighting a conflict that seemed increasingly futile. While noting that Afghanistan has never really known peace, he hopes that American actions have contributed to the destruction of the country’s infrastructure of terrorism. Ackerman should be commended not just for his work helping Afghans escape safely, but also for providing a must-read account of the end of America’s longest war.

Courage and folly, dedication and tragedy: Ackerman deftly captures all dimensions of a protracted foreign policy failure.

Pub Date: Aug. 9, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-49204-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: May 23, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2022

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A WEALTH OF PIGEONS

A CARTOON COLLECTION

A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

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The veteran actor, comedian, and banjo player teams up with the acclaimed illustrator to create a unique book of cartoons that communicates their personalities.

Martin, also a prolific author, has always been intrigued by the cartoons strewn throughout the pages of the New Yorker. So when he was presented with the opportunity to work with Bliss, who has been a staff cartoonist at the magazine since 1997, he seized the moment. “The idea of a one-panel image with or without a caption mystified me,” he writes. “I felt like, yeah, sometimes I’m funny, but there are these other weird freaks who are actually funny.” Once the duo agreed to work together, they established their creative process, which consisted of working forward and backward: “Forwards was me conceiving of several cartoon images and captions, and Harry would select his favorites; backwards was Harry sending me sketched or fully drawn cartoons for dialogue or banners.” Sometimes, he writes, “the perfect joke occurs two seconds before deadline.” There are several cartoons depicting this method, including a humorous multipanel piece highlighting their first meeting called “They Meet,” in which Martin thinks to himself, “He’ll never be able to translate my delicate and finely honed droll notions.” In the next panel, Bliss thinks, “I’m sure he won’t understand that the comic art form is way more subtle than his blunt-force humor.” The team collaborated for a year and created 150 cartoons featuring an array of topics, “from dogs and cats to outer space and art museums.” A witty creation of a bovine family sitting down to a gourmet meal and one of Dumbo getting his comeuppance highlight the duo’s comedic talent. What also makes this project successful is the team’s keen understanding of human behavior as viewed through their unconventional comedic minds.

A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-26289-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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CALYPSO

Sedaris at his darkest—and his best.

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In which the veteran humorist enters middle age with fine snark but some trepidation as well.

Mortality is weighing on Sedaris (Theft by Finding: Diaries 1977-2002, 2017, etc.), much of it his own, professional narcissist that he is. Watching an elderly man have a bowel accident on a plane, he dreaded the day when he would be the target of teenagers’ jokes “as they raise their phones to take my picture from behind.” A skin tumor troubled him, but so did the doctor who told him he couldn’t keep it once it was removed. “But it’s my tumor,” he insisted. “I made it.” (Eventually, he found a semitrained doctor to remove and give him the lipoma, which he proceeded to feed to a turtle.) The deaths of others are much on the author’s mind as well: He contemplates the suicide of his sister Tiffany, his alcoholic mother’s death, and his cantankerous father’s erratic behavior. His contemplation of his mother’s drinking—and his family’s denial of it—makes for some of the most poignant writing in the book: The sound of her putting ice in a rocks glass increasingly sounded “like a trigger being cocked.” Despite the gloom, however, frivolity still abides in the Sedaris clan. His summer home on the Carolina coast, which he dubbed the Sea Section, overspills with irreverent bantering between him and his siblings as his long-suffering partner, Hugh, looks on. Sedaris hasn’t lost his capacity for bemused observations of the people he encounters. For example, cashiers who say “have a blessed day” make him feel “like you’ve been sprayed against your will with God cologne.” But bad news has sharpened the author’s humor, and this book is defined by a persistent, engaging bafflement over how seriously or unseriously to take life when it’s increasingly filled with Trump and funerals.

Sedaris at his darkest—and his best.

Pub Date: May 29, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-39238-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 19, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2018

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