cover image Places and Names: On War, Revolution, and Returning

Places and Names: On War, Revolution, and Returning

Elliot Ackerman. Penguin Press, $26 (256p) ISBN 978-0-525-55996-2

“Wars are no longer punctuated by clear declarations of victory or defeat,” writes journalist, novelist, and ex-Marine Ackerman (Dark at the Crossing) midway through this lyrical war memoir and consideration of American military interventions in the Middle East. Through a chance connection, Ackerman befriends Abu Hassar, an Iraqi who fought on many of the same battlegrounds he did—but for al-Qaeda. Through the lens of this unlikely relationship and another with the young Syrian activist Abed, Ackerman examines the scars etched on the landscape, its inhabitants, and those, like him, who came there to fight: for both his fellow Americans and Syrian democratic rebels, he writes, “our wars each devolved into disasters for the same reason: by trying to unleash sweeping change in the region, we created the conditions for extremists to rise.” Memory continuously draws him back to the places they fought: “I am defined by a place I might return to someday, the idea that somewhere on my life’s horizon is a time when I’ll again walk those streets knowing my war is finished.” He brings together a poetic sensibility (imbuing unforced significance into chess games, T-shirt slogans, and other happenstance details) and clear-eyed understanding of the political forces at work in the Middle East. That combination will appeal to fans of reflective, well-honed memoir, and those with an interest in geopolitics. Agent: PJ Mark, Janklow & Nesbit. (June)