'A superb, unique, and unforgettable story of war and death, fear and cruelty, above all the horrors and allure of combat' Simon Sebag Montefiore
'One of the most profound books I have ever read about the real nature of war and the abstract allure of the ideas and the bloodshed that fuels it' Jon Lee Anderson, author of The Fall of Baghdad
An astonishing account of the nature of war from acclaimed novelist and decorated former US marine Elliot Ackerman
In a refugee camp in southern Turkey, Elliot Ackerman sits across the table from Abu Hassar, who fought for Al Qaeda in Iraq and has murky connections to the Islamic State. At first, Ackerman pretends to have been a journalist during the Iraq War, but after he establishes a rapport with Abu Hassar, he reveals that in fact he was a Marine. The two men then compare their fighting experiences in the Middle East, discovering they had shadowed each other for some time: a realisation that brings them to a strange kind of intimacy.
Elliot Ackerman's extraordinary memoir explores the events that led him to come to this refugee camp and what, unable to forget his time in battle, he hoped to find there. Moving between his recent time on the ground as a journalist in Syria and his Marine deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, he creates a work of astonishing atmospheric pressure, one which blends the American experience with the perspectives and stories of the Arab world, and draws a line between them.
At once an intensely personal book about the terrible lure of combat and a brilliant meditation on the meaning of the past two decades of strife for the region and the world, Places and Names bids to take its place among our greatest books about modern war.
"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.