cover image The Fifth Act: America’s End in Afghanistan

The Fifth Act: America’s End in Afghanistan

Elliot Ackerman. Penguin Press, $27 (288p) ISBN 978-0-593-49204-8

A veteran ponders America’s “harried withdrawal” from Afghanistan in this haunting memoir. Journalist and novelist Ackerman (Dark at the Crossing) served in Afghanistan as a Marine and CIA officer until 2011; here he recounts his efforts last summer during the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul to help Afghans who worked with the U.S. to flee the country. It’s a harrowing portrait of chaos and collapse: working mainly by text message from Italy, Ackerman—with the help of an improvised personal network of journalists, officials, and sympathetic Marine buddies—helped thread evacuees through a gauntlet of Taliban checkpoints, desperate crowds, and suspicious American sentinels to get to flights out of Kabul’s besieged airport. The nerve-wracking operation frames his recollections of weathering firefights in Afghanistan, witnessing the deaths of comrades, and agonizing over dangerous missions to recover their bodies. Writing in evocative, gripping prose—“Blood, like spilled paint, stained the side of the hood and wheel well.... The major sat inside the RG-33, dazed like a prizefighter between rounds, clutching a radio handset he wasn’t talking into”—Ackerman provides a clear-eyed indictment of America’s failures in Afghanistan while paying homage to the soldiers who fought there. The result is a moving elegy for a blighted struggle. Photos. Agent: P.J. Mark, Janklow & Nesbit Assoc. (Aug.)