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Dark at the Crossing
     

Dark at the Crossing

by Elliot Ackerman
 

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From the author of the acclaimed Green on Blue, a timely new novel of stunning humanity and tension: a contemporary love story set on the Turkish border with Syria.

Haris Abadi is a man in search of a cause. An Arab American with a conflicted past, he is now in Turkey, attempting to cross into Syria and join the fight against Bashar al-Assad's

Overview

From the author of the acclaimed Green on Blue, a timely new novel of stunning humanity and tension: a contemporary love story set on the Turkish border with Syria.

Haris Abadi is a man in search of a cause. An Arab American with a conflicted past, he is now in Turkey, attempting to cross into Syria and join the fight against Bashar al-Assad's regime. But he is robbed before he can make it, and is taken in by Amir, a charismatic Syrian refugee and former revolutionary, and Amir's wife, Daphne, a sophisticated beauty haunted by grief. As it becomes clear that Daphne is also desperate to return to Syria, Haris's choices become ever more wrenching: Whose side is he really on? Is he a true radical or simply an idealist? And will he be able to bring meaning to a life of increasing frustration and helplessness? Told with compassion and a deft hand, Dark at the Crossing is an exploration of loss, of second chances, and of why we choose to believe--a trenchantly observed novel of raw urgency and power.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Lawrence Osborne
Based in Istanbul, Ackerman is familiar with the formidably volatile and increasingly dangerous southern border zones with Syria. Much of this slender novel is set in the once pleasant city of Gaziantep—or Antep—whose texture he renders with economical accuracy and with gathering unease. It's a physical landscape that rarely appears in novels, and Ackerman has learned it well—a twilight world of desolate roads, refugee tents, hordes of scavenging boys, desperados and lethal con men…Dark at the Crossing is unusual in that few of its characters are Western—a bold move in a culture obsessed with "appropriation." Whether this makes them convincing to an Arab ear is hard to say, but Ackerman's decision is clearly motivated by empathy and a desire not to tell his story through characters thinking and speaking his own language. I commend him for that; he has created people who are not the equivalents of the locally exotic subjects in your average NPR story, and he has used them to populate a fascinating and topical novel.
Publishers Weekly
09/26/2016
The second novel from Ackerman (Green on Blue) presents a stark and multifaceted portrait of the civil war in Syria. After working as an interpreter for a Special Forces unit during the Iraq War in exchange for five years in America and citizenship for him and his sister, Iraq-born Haris Abadi travels to the Turkish border with Syria in hopes of joining the fight against President Bashar al-Assad’s repressive regime. But the border is closed. Then his American passport and possessions are stolen, and Haris is forced to remain in Gaziantep, Turkey. There, he finds shelter with Amir and Amir’s wife, Daphne—two Syrian refugees who fled their homeland after their daughter disappeared in a bomb blast that also destroyed their apartment building. The more time Haris spends with the couple, the more he learns about their past—Amir’s former ties to the revolution and Daphne’s fervent belief that their daughter is still alive. Haris’s quest for a cause to believe in takes a deadly turn when Daphne asks him to accompany her to Aleppo in secret to uncover what actually happened to her daughter. Flashbacks to Haris’s experiences during the Iraq War provide context and motive for his restless searching. Ackerman’s station in Istanbul, where he has covered the Syrian civil war since 2013—plus five tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan—aptly inform this timely and unsettling novel. Agent: PJ Mark, Janklow & Nesbit Associates. (Jan.)
From the Publisher
Dark at the Crossing is every bit as taut and harrowing as the place it depicts, a region where fifteen years of relentless war play out in filthy refugee camps and upscale shopping malls. Elliot Ackerman has written a brilliant, admirably merciless novel of broken lives, broken places, and good intentions gone awry.”
—Ben Fountain, author of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

“Infused with profound knowledge, empathy, and chutzpah, Ackerman’s writing is hauntingly evocative and beautiful. It is a rare writer who is not afraid to deal with the toughest conflicts, ask the hardest questions, show the darkest side of even heroes, and still manage to renew our faith in humanity.”
—Elif Shafak, author of The Bastard of Istanbul 

“Here is a thriller, psychological fiction, political intrigue, and even a love story all wrapped into a stunningly realistic and sometimes horrifying package. Put Ackerman on the A-list.”
Library Journal (starred)

“Elliot Ackerman’s quietly subversive sensibilities make him one of the most potent and original writers to emerge from that elite platoon of men and women who, since 9/11, have laid down their guns to pick up a pen. Once again, here in his second novel, Dark at the Crossing, Ackerman insists American readers immerse themselves in the humanity of their country’s enemies and victims. His work is a unique and bittersweet blessing of raw grace and naked, bleeding empathy.”
—Bob Shacochis, author of The Woman Who Lost Her Soul

“Once again, Elliot Ackerman dares to imagine his way into the minds, lives, and fates of people too many American writers would judge as inaccessible—perhaps even forbidden. The result is a book whose emotional acuity is matched only by its literary artistry. They don’t award medals of valor to novelists, but while reading this book I often thought, Maybe they should.”
—Tom Bissell, author of Apostle: Travels Among the Tombs of the Twelve

“Ackerman has done a masterful job of creating a novel of ideas that invites thoughtful consideration of the folly and futility of war and the failure of idealism . . . The text is beautifully written, and the rendering of the setting is superb. Dark at the Crossing makes a significant contribution to the literature of war.”
Booklist
(starred)

“Ackerman is a magnificent storyteller. Dark at the Crossing is a quietly but intensely profound novel. It captures this epic moment in Middle East history in human terms. It’s a riveting read. I couldn’t put it down.”
—Robin Wright, author of Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion across the Islamic World

“Welcome to a dark world illuminated by visions that the writer Elliot Ackerman has brought back from his wars, his journalistic investigations, and from his artist’s imagination. We see a professional soldier’s overused muscles, the smile of an Ivy League war-profiteer in his bathrobe, a Turkish woman’s seductive glamour—all with lifelike clarity. This novel makes us see and hear as if we are there, too close for comfort, as Ackerman’s hero and heroine are drawn, against any self-preserving logic, back across the border into the maelstrom of Syria. Can anyone make this dark crossing and remain true? Ackerman’s heroes try. Like Robert Stone’s A Flag for Sunrise, to which Ackerman’s novel bears comparison, both for its sophisticated understanding of current affairs and its grim realism, Dark at the Crossing is a disturbing report on the ancient paradox of war in which life and death, good and evil are intimately intertwined. After the bodies fall, the green grass grows over them. We look at the graves and ask, ‘What does it mean?’ In this stunning, grief-inspiring book, it seems to me that Ackerman confesses we do not know. I don’t think anyone can ask more of a piece of literature than this delivers.”
—Atticus Lish, author of Preparation for the Next Life

“A timely and unsettling novel . . . A stark and multifaceted portrait of the civil war in Syria.”
Publishers Weekly

“Elliot Ackerman’s slow-build, atmospheric, and profoundly compassionate novel offers an unexpected and unique perspective on the most volatile conflict zone of the present day. Richly detailed and told with the force of first-hand experience, Dark at the Crossing is a courageous and vital work.”
Greg Baxter, author of The Apartment

“Timely . . . Former Marine and current Middle East scholar Ackerman explores territory familiar to him but uncharted to most of us. Ackerman humanizes a war fraught with tragedy and seemingly without resolution.” Kirkus Reviews

Library Journal
★ 09/15/2016
Arab American Haris Abadi is looking to define himself, to find a "cause" since his sister married into money and ceased to be his motivation. He chooses to go to Syria to fight the regime. Crossing from Turkey to Syria is difficult for anyone, but for Haris it becomes a nightmare. "Befriended" by Athid, who promises to guide him, he instead is robbed and beaten. Then he's taken in by a gang of boys—street peddlers, really—and is finally rescued by Amir, a charismatic Syrian refugee and ex-revolutionary whose beautiful wife, Daphne, also wishes to journey into Syria to locate a daughter believed dead by all but her. Bonded by their mutual interest in Syria, Daphne and Haris are determined to enter the country, and Amir has the wherewithal to make it happen. As it turns out, they contract the very same Athid as a guide. To say more would be to play spoiler, but the ending is deeply saddening, bitterly wistful, and highly ironic. VERDICT Here is a thriller, psychological fiction, political intrigue, and even a love story all wrapped into a stunningly realistic and sometimes horrifying package. Put Ackerman (Green on Blue) on the A-list. [See Prepub Alert, 7/11/16.]—Robert E. Brown, Oswego, NY
Kirkus Reviews
2016-11-06
A timely novel about tension at the border between Turkey and Syria—and about the personal costs involved in trying to join the conflict in the Middle East.Although Haris Abadi was born in Iraq, he moved to the United States and became a citizen after the first Iraq War. When the novel begins, he has returned to the Middle East, fueled by restlessness and by a newfound idealism: he finds himself drawn to "the establishment of a free and democratic Syria," and this involves a commitment to remove Bashar al-Assad from power. So now, from a backwater town in southern Turkey, he's trying to get into Syria to fight with the Free Syrian Army. Unfortunately, the mysterious man who'd recruited him to fight (and with whom he's only communicated via email) is not being responsive. Haris is stopped unceremoniously at the border and informed that it's closed. This incident sets in motion the rest of Ackerman's narrative, for while the war in Syria remains close but abstract, the journey across the Turkish-Syrian border is immediate and problematic. He links up with Saied and Athid, two unsavory types who promise him safe passage, but they sell him out to the border guards, yet one more example of the difficulty and corruption Haris faces as he tries to cross the border. The drama intensifies when he meets up with Amir and Amir's beautiful wife, Daphne, who have lost a daughter in the fighting around Aleppo. While Amir tries to make arrangements (via strategic use of bribery) to ensure Haris' safe passage into Syria, Daphne faces a difficult decision: to remain with her husband or to stay with Haris on his quest to enter Syria and thus return to Aleppo. As he did in his first novel, Green on Blue (2015), former Marine and current Middle East scholar Ackerman explores territory familiar to him but uncharted to most of us. Ackerman humanizes a war fraught with tragedy and seemingly without resolution.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781101947371
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
01/24/2017
Pages:
256
Sales rank:
112,029
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.20(d)

Read an Excerpt

I

The morning he went off to his second war, Haris Abadi spent twenty minutes in the sauna of the Tuğcan Hotel. Cleaned by his sweat, he swaddled himself in a complimentary bathrobe, went up to his room and took a long shower. Then he went back to sleep, waking naked on his bed an hour later. Downstairs for a late breakfast, he ate three buttered croissants with jam.

The concierge found Haris in the large, empty dining room, its circular tables set with fine crystal as if waiting for a party that would never come. Leaning over Haris, the concierge grasped the lapels of his suit jacket, where he wore a pinned insignia of crossed gold keys. He asked Haris something in Turkish. Haris didn’t speak Turkish and shrugged back, his mouth still full of flaky croissant.

The concierge tried Arabic: “How has your stay been?”

“Good, thank you,” said Haris.

“Business or pleasure?”

“Business,” answered Haris. There was no other reason to come to Antep, an industrial backwater along Turkey’s southern border with Syria.

The concierge looked at the stuffed hiking pack propped against the leg of Haris’s chair. “Checking out then?”

Haris reached into a deep internal pocket on the pack, fishing around for his cash. He pulled out a mixed roll of Turkish lira, American dollars and Syrian pounds. He held the wad beneath the table, counting it bill by bill. The concierge hovered above him.

“Two hundred a night, yes?” asked Haris, peeling six hundred lira off his roll.

The concierge nodded, eyeing Haris’s dollars. “You’re American?” he asked.

Haris handed over the money for three nights. “Here, six hundred.”

He felt the concierge taking a closer look at him: his pack, his desert—suede combat boots.

“I’d prefer you pay in dollars,” said the concierge.

As hard as he’d worked to become an American, Haris hated the way his new clothes and strong currency betrayed him abroad. He paid in dollars, and the concierge tucked the tight fold of twenties into his vest’s front pocket.

“Allow me to find you a cab.”

Haris nodded, then got up and went to the bathroom, leaving his heavy pack unattended in the opulent dining room. He didn’t seem to care if everything was taken from him.

It had rained the night before, and that morning the late autumn sky cleared, turning the air cold, freezing the sidewalks. Outside the Tuğcan, an old man, a Syrian, swept the slush from the hotel’s marble front step with a rolled copy of the daily paper, Milliyet. His eyes were sheathed in wrinkles and on his head he wore a keffiyeh. It was held in place by an igal, a coiled wreath, which sat on him like the crown of perpetual defeat. Hunched over, the old man worked slowly, positioning himself so someone from the hotel might notice his pains and offer a bit of charity.

The revolving door spun a turn, and the concierge and Haris stepped outside. The old man looked up at them, holding his face toward the sun. He offered a toothy, rotten grin. His eyes shifted from them to his work, clearing the last of the slush from their path. Haris reached into his pocket. His fingers felt for a coin or folded lira note. Before he could find either, the concierge flicked the toe of a polished oxford at the old man, shooing him away. The old man said nothing. He took a few steps from the Tuğcan’s marble front and wandered onto the frozen sidewalk, where he stood like a broken piece of furniture set out in the street.

The concierge reached into his vest pocket and blew a small silver whistle. A yellow taxi with the Tuğcan’s logo—-a setting or rising sun, it was difficult to tell which—-pulled in front of the hotel. Unfolding a map of Syria and southern Turkey, Haris walked to the driver’s window. The driver rubbed his thickly stubbled cheeks as Haris traced the route from Antep to the border crossing thirty miles south, in a town called Kilis.

The concierge insisted on loading Haris’s hiking pack into the taxi. He slammed the trunk closed. “I hope you’ll stay with us again.”

With no plans to return, Haris felt uncertain what to say. “Yes,” he mumbled. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out the first coin he found—-one lira, a meager sum. He palmed it over to the concierge, who took the gratuity with the same composure a gentleman takes an insult.

Haris slammed the taxi’s yellow door, happy to be leaving the Tuğcan and Antep. The concierge headed back toward the hotel, crossing the marble step that had been cleared of slush. Appreciating this clean patch, he glanced to where the old man lingered on the frozen sidewalk. Their eyes met, and the old man straightened himself, fixing his keffiyeh, smoothing its tasseled ends over his narrow shoulders.

Haris’s taxi pulled into the street. From its window, he saw the old man ambling toward the Tuğcan’s revolving door. The concierge stood on the cleared marble step. He handed the old man Haris’s one lira for his labor. As the taxi took the last turn toward the highway, Haris glimpsed the old man’s contorted, angry expression when he tucked the coin into his pocket, the concierge having passed along Haris’s insult.

The cab followed the D850, a highway constructed as sturdily as anything Haris had seen in Michigan, where he’d brought his sister after his first war. Removing his map, Haris traced the D850 with his finger as it ran out of Antep, or Gaziantep as the map read, though Haris had yet to meet anyone who called it such.

It was a city of two names with three meanings.

Haris could recognize that Antep was a corruption of the Arabic ayn tayyib, which meant “the good spring.” After the democratic revolutions of two springs past, it augured well to return through a city with this name. A hundred years before, the Turkish parliament had appended the “Gazi” or ghazi, meaning “hero,” after the city’s citizens repulsed a French siege during the war of independence. Yet the city’s oldest name, spoken in a dead language, and in this way a hidden language, had a slightly different meaning. In Aramaic the word is ayn debo, “the spring of the wolf.”

Haris found where the D850 ran out of Antep and intersected the D400, which crossed from Turkey into Syria, passing through cities like Ar—Raqqa and Deir ez—Zor, which had become infamous after two years of civil war. But the route remained anonymous, connecting places yet being no place. When the D400 entered Iraq, it became Highway 10. But always it was the same road: black, straight, its name switching with borders while every other part of it remained unchanged. Haris continued to trace the road with his finger until it spilled into a flat brown Iraqi sprawl along the Euphrates River—-Nasiriya—-his birthplace and, before the war, his home.

Of his family, he had no single memory of them together, his mother having died in childbirth with his sister, Samia, when he was six. His first home had been on the riverbank. The high marsh grass abutting a simple compound of thick, coarse cement, his mother walking him down to the bank through the brushing grass, his father returning from whatever construction job he worked with the same cement hard on his clothes—-memory was texture. Soft grass. Hard cement.

Haris leaned his head against the cracked window. The cold glass touched the bald spot, which, only in the last few months, had spread from his crown. His reddish hair was unusually light, an uncommon but not impossible shade for an Arab, evidence of some recessive trait. Past the glass, farmers’ fields flanked the road, spanning in all directions. Clods of harvested earth littered the fields. They stank with a wet—dirt smell. In places the dead stalks of the harvest burned in the dawn, which seemed to rise from the land itself, and the farmers cleared the fields, readying them for winter and the next season’s planting.

Haris thought how fertile and lush the land seemed. To live here was to be blessed. He’d always believed that was why life in Nasiriya had been violent and poor—-but for the river the land was desert, everything scarce, scarcity breeding violence. Just across this border, in Syria, around cities like Aleppo and Azaz, the land was the same as what passed by Haris’s window—-rich, wet, harvested. These three years, violence had spread there, as surely as if the land were desert, the people failing the land and what had been given them.

The meter on the dash steadily climbed, blinking close to a hundred Turkish lira. Strewn across the soaked and smoky farm fields were the sagging tents of refugee families. Outside the tents, lost—eyed men sat on plastic chairs, watching the highway. Children played in the churned mud. They chased a dog whose ribs sucked at its sides, taunting it with sticks. When the dog got away, they taunted a child who was slower than the dog.

The rows of tents thickened as the D850 ran closer to Kilis. At the town’s limit, the refugees disappeared. The streets became clean. Curbs sprung up on the side of the road, checkered yellow and white, the paint fresh. Where many roads met, roundabouts had been built. Their centers were planted with flowers, tulips mostly. Everywhere traffic lights hung between side posts, changing in unison, swaying on their wires in an uneven wind. The war and the border were less than a kilometer away, and Haris felt there was something cruel in how Kilis thrived despite its proximity to suffering.

The cabdriver pulled up to a stoplight, for a final left turn. From the roadside, a pack of children, their clothes oily with filth, rushed the taxi. Their voices chattered wild as morning birds. The cabdriver ignored their pleas until one boy knocked a little fist against the taxi’s door. The cabdriver rolled down his window to curse the boy. Before he could, the children reached their arms inside, clamoring for some charity. The cabdriver swatted at them, shouting the only words of Arabic he seemed to know: “Airy fic! Airy fic!” But the children wouldn’t “fuck off.” They wouldn’t move. A pair now stood in front of the taxi, blocking its way.

Unlike the cabdriver, Haris understood the pleading boys. He rolled down his window and pointed to a plastic shopping bag carried by the eldest, who was no more than fourteen, just a child with an Adam’s apple, his jet—black hair slicked back with what was likely pomade but could well have been engine grease. This boy offered up the plastic sack to Haris. The others calmed, sensing Haris might buy one of the cheap knickknacks they hawked. Before they could strike a deal, the cabdriver pointed to the pair who had stepped in front of his taxi. The boy with the black hair nodded in their direction. The pair stepped out of the way.

Haris fingered through the plastic bag—-a wooden comb, fingernail clippers, a cigarette lighter.

“Five lira for anything,” announced the boy with the black hair, his mouth curling into a sly grin around his wide—spaced teeth.

Haris reached through the window, taking the lighter from the bag, which he passed back to them. “How about this?” he asked, digging a few coins from his pants pocket. A younger boy had approached Haris’s window. He was skinny, his face grained in dirt, but he had very clear gray eyes, which watched Haris from behind a pair of thick glasses, their right lens missing. Instead of passing his coins to the sly boy with the black hair, Haris reached toward this other, weaker boy.

Before Haris could pay, the light went green. The cabdriver sped through the intersection, pinning Haris to his seat. As he sat up, Haris tossed a handful of change out his window. He then glanced through the cab’s rear windshield. The boys scrambled down the road. The boy with the black hair pried their bodies apart as they wrestled for what Haris had left behind, all except for the younger boy, who, very calmly, stood on the curb and cleaned the one lens of his glasses with the dirty hem of his shirt.

The border crossing in Kilis smelled of sharp, acrid smoke. A pair of Turkish flags—-a white crescent pinching a white, five—pointed star on a red banner—-flanked what to Haris looked like a rest stop on the interstate. Just past the crossing, in the Syrian town of Azaz, explosions came—-CRUMP, CRUMP, CRUMP—-the noise like soda cans crushed underfoot. The impacts set off a few distant car alarms. Smoke towered upward, running along the horizon like black stitches, fastening earth to sky.

Haris shouldered his heavy hiking pack. He stood in the dust of the gravel parking lot. The cabdriver pulled back onto the road. It had been a few years since Haris had come near such violence. He remained motionless, transfixed by its familiar power, as if he’d just put an old name to a forgotten face.

Refugees from the morning’s fighting crowded the roadside. Some sat straddling their cheap, flimsy suitcases. Others squatted in the dirt with nothing. Few spoke. Those who did whispered. The crowd’s attention held on Azaz.

Haris checked his phone for an email from Saladin1984, his contact and fixer in the Northern Storm, a supposedly good brigade of the Free Syrian Army. There were no messages. It was Saladin1984 who’d recruited him to the cause, forwarding along a steady stream of treatises, manifestos and videos, each with an array of political demands that at times Haris found dizzying despite his growing commitment to these ideas. Some materials called for the establishment of a free and democratic Syria, others the removal of President Bashar al—Assad, and many a combination of the two. Haris now composed Saladin1984 a message, explaining that he’d arrived and was ready to cross the border. As he finished, another CRUMP came, then more smoke, followed by the manic pop, pop, pop of rifle fire. A collective sigh went up from those stuck along the border, as if in a crowded airport terminal a final flight’s cancellation had just been announced. A few of the refugees lay down on the cold earth, as though they’d chosen to take a nap. Others wandered aimlessly along the road toward Kilis. In the parking lot’s corner, some pressed into a small café run out of an abandoned shipping container, where a squat Syrian man with a push—broom mustache served bitter tea in curved glass cups.

You came to fight, Haris told himself, looking at the distant smoke blooming from Azaz. They’re fighting right there. You’ve fought before—- No, he reminded himself—- You’ve been around fighting before. There’s a big difference. So are you going to do what you came to do?

Haris tightened down the straps on his hiking pack. He plodded toward the Plexiglas guard booth at the border crossing, feeling the refugees’ puzzled looks on him—-it was absurd for anyone to walk in the direction they’d just come from. These are the ones who abandoned their country, thought Haris. The Syrians on the other side will be different. Then he remembered how his father had abandoned him and Samia to a chorus of aunts and uncles after their mother died, disappearing into his work, then disappearing altogether, only for Haris to mimic his father—-or so he feared—-by abandoning his own country to resettle in America with his sister.

Inside the guard booth, two Turkish gendarmes watched television. They sat side by side, reclined in their cheap leather office chairs, smoking Gauloises and laughing at some show. Haris knocked gently on the window. They didn’t notice him. He knocked harder, pounding the glass. The gendarmes swung around. The pair were nearly indistinguishable. Both were young, but just old enough so a band of fat rimmed their stomachs. Smeared across their cheeks was stubble. It’d likely grown over their two—to-three—day shift. It appeared as though they lived in the booth.

Haris pressed his U.S. passport against the glass.

The pair slowly stood. Each grabbed a blue tunic from a coat-rack in the corner, buttoning its front. The first gendarme, who was a head taller than the other, came to the window. He keyed an intercom, speaking quickly in Turkish.

Not understanding, Haris said nothing.

The tall gendarme slumped his shoulders and sighed. “Yok English.”

“Arabe?” asked Haris.

The shorter of the two pushed past his friend. “Shwe, shwe,” he said, examining Haris. “The border is closed,” he added in broken Arabic.

“For how long?”

The shorter gendarme gazed toward Azaz, where a phalanx of smoke still stabbed at the horizon. “Long time.”

Haris stepped away from the glass.

Saladin1984 had assured him that crossing the border would be easy, that the Turks were no friends of Bashar al—Assad, that they welcomed foreigners who wanted to fight against the Syrian regime. Haris checked his phone, no new messages.

He tapped on the glass again. The taller gendarme nudged the shorter one, who stood heavily and approached the intercom. “What else?” he asked.

“I’m not just American,” said Haris.

“I see that,” said the gendarme. “You speak very good Arabic.”

“I’m from Iraq,” added Haris. “I only recently became an American.”

The gendarme smiled.

Haris felt a quick surge of hope in his chest, like a perfect knot cinched tight.

“You managed to leave Iraq and get all the way to America?” asked the gendarme.

Haris nodded.

“Arriving there, you managed to get citizenship for yourself?”

Again Haris nodded.

“And now you want to cross into Syria?”

Haris said nothing. He looked out toward Azaz.

The short gendarme glanced at his partner, who sat in front of the television, entranced by his program. His eyes returned to Haris’s. “You’ve come here to cross the border and die with them,” he said. The gendarme’s smile from before, the one Haris had thought was sympathy, dissolved. It hadn’t been sympathy. It’d been pity. “You’re a damn fool, and I won’t help one fool die with other fools. The border is closed.”

As the gendarme went back to his seat, his friend, who hadn’t been listening, began to laugh violently, slapping his knee and explaining the punch line to some joke on the television. A smile returned to the short gendarme’s face, and soon he was laughing too.

Meet the Author

ELLIOT ACKERMAN, author of the critically acclaimed novel Green on Blue, is based out of Istanbul, where he has covered the Syrian Civil War since 2013. His writings have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New Republic, and The New York Times Magazine, among other publications, and his stories have been included in The Best American Short Stories. He is both a former White House Fellow and Marine, and served five tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan where he received the Silver Star, the Bronze Star for Valor, and the Purple Heart.

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