“Dark At the Crossing,” by Elliot Ackerman
(Alfred A. Knopf, pp 256, $ 25.95)
Here is an author whose fiction cannot be separated from his life, or, if you indulge me, whose novels are based on his life. Once a marine, with an impressive five tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, Ackerman is now a journalist based in Istanbul, from where he has been covering the Syrian Civil War since 2013. “Dark at the Crossing” Ackerman’s sophomore novel, after his much-heralded debut novel, “Green on Blue,” like its predecessor, deals with characters trapped in the middle of a brutal conflict. The conflict here is not just the obvious Syrian debacle, but also the one of a failed marriage. Ackerman comments on the genesis of the novel as an insight he had while meeting a revolutionary friend turned refugee. The man was having a conversation with his wife on the phone, and after he put the phone down he stated: “I was unfaithful and she’s never forgiven me.”
The unfaithfulness here is the revolution, the belief, the inspiration, and hopes it breeds while commanding enormous sacrifices. For Ackerman a revolution is a like a marriage: two souls come together and unite to form a new ideal. When a marriage fails, parties have to reenter or recreate a new reality, often with extreme suffering. This insight lies at the core of “Dark at the Crossing.” It is a novel of fragmentation and dissolution, where sacrifices can only meet grief, insanity for the fight of lost causes. Add the loss of a child to the mix and you get a gut-squirming novel, written with the spare prose of an unforgiving Hemingway. There’s darkness all around, and perhaps a different kind of redemption. But don’t expect Hollywood, with its compulsory tendency to romanticize all situations, where a couple would develop the ultimate love, to rescue you. Wars, no matter how we look at them, are no favorable breeding grounds for love. Life, however, still pulses below, and this is where you will find the best of humanity, that the novel succeeds in capturing.