From the author of Waiting for Eden and the National Book Award Finalist Dark at the Crossing, a “compassionate, provocative, and alive” (Vogue.com) debut war story about a young Afghan orphan, “Green on Blue is harrowing, brutal, and utterly absorbing. With spare prose, Ackerman has spun a morally complex tale of revenge, loyalty, and brotherly love” (Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner).
Aziz and his older brother Ali are coming of age in a village amid the pine forests and endless mountains of eastern Afghanistan. They are poor, but inside their mud-walled home, the family has stability, love, and routine. One day a convoy of armed men arrives in their village and their world crumbles. The boys survive and make their way to a small city, where they gradually begin to piece together their lives. But when US forces invade the country, militants strike back. A bomb explodes in the market, and Ali is brutally injured.
To save his brother, Aziz must join the Special Lashkar, a US-funded militia. As he rises through the ranks, Aziz becomes mired in the dark underpinnings of his country’s war, witnessing clashes between rival Afghan groups—what US soldiers call “green on green” attacks—and those on US forces by Afghan soldiers, violence known as “green on blue.” Trapped in a conflict both savage and contrived, Aziz struggles to understand his place. Will he embrace the brutality of war or leave it behind, and risk placing his brother—and a young woman he has come to love—in jeopardy?
Green on Blue has broken new ground in the literature of our most recent wars, accomplishing an astonishing feat of empathy and imagination. Writing from the Afghan perspective, “Elliot Ackerman has done something brave as a writer and even braver as a soldier: He has touched, for real, the culture and soul of his enemy” (The New York Times Book Review).
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About the Author
Elliot Ackerman served five tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan and is the recipient of the Silver Star, the Bronze Star for Valor, and the Purple Heart. A former White House Fellow, his essays and fiction have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New Republic, and Ecotone, among others. He currently lives in Istanbul where he writes on the Syrian Civil War. Green on Blue is his first novel.
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Green on Blue by author Elliot Ackerman includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Living in a small Afghan village a two-days’ walk from the nearest bazaar, brothers Aziz and Ali are destined for the spare lives of farmers. But when their father, against orders, returns home early one day from fighting in the mountains, the Taliban kills both the boys’ parents and burns their village to the ground. Orphaned and homeless, they travel to the city of Orgun to beg in the streets where eventually Ali is grievously wounded in a bombing attack orchestrated by a man named Gazan. Seeking badal—or revenge—for his older brother, Aziz joins the American-backed Special Lashkar, a force charged with protecting the eastern border against Gazan. Yet the more he learns about the shifting alliances between his commander Sabir, the American Mr. Jack, and a village elder named Atal, the more the lines between opposing forces blur into a haze of corruption and greed. In the end, Aziz must decide whether to embrace the brutality of war or leave it behind, and risk placing his brother—and a young woman he’s come to love—in jeopardy.
Topics and Questions for Discussion
1. In the opening lines of Green on Blue, Aziz says, “Many would call me a dishonest man, but I have always kept faith with myself. There is an honesty in that, I think” (page three). We learn that he inherits his ability to deceive from his mother, who finds a guilty pleasure in secretly smoking cigarettes. How does this statement resonate with the position in which Aziz finds himself at the climax of the novel?
2. A decorated American veteran who served in both Afghanistan and Iraq, Ackerman chooses to write from the point of view of an Afghan orphan. How does this unique decision inform the author’s writing style?
3. On page seven, Aziz’s father teaches him that “a man, a Pashtun man, had an obligation to take badal when his nang, his honor, was challenged,” a code that Aziz takes to heart when his older brother is crippled. Compare this early impression with that on page 143, when Aziz becomes the one whose life might be sacrificed in the name of revenge. Does his opinion of the concept of badal change over the course of the book?
4. Ali claims that their father’s ring someday “will be lost. [...] And if we haven’t learned to replace it, the loss will be complete” (page thirteen). He believes that the only way to replace the ring is to have Aziz educated. Yet Taqbir feels that Aziz must care for the ring until his brother’s health improves (page twenty-two), and Mumtaz asserts that “if [Ali] no longer wears the ring, [...] then [Aziz has] taken his place” in the family (page 214). What do each of these characters bring to the symbolic value of the ring? What connects or distinguishes their points of view?
5. From the tale Ali and Aziz’s father tells of the tower’s light (page eight) to Yar’s retelling of the heroic history of Commander James (page fifty-six), storytelling plays an important role in the way characters think about their families and themselves. How does a narrative tradition help to define the Pashtun code of honor in Green on Blue?
6. When Aziz decides to join the Special Lashkar on page twenty-five, he explains that to care for his brother would have been “his single alternative. And single alternatives have a logic all their own. Men go to war with such a logic.” What do you think Aziz means by the “logic” of single alternatives, considering all of his fellow recruits share tragic pasts? Do you think that Taqbir’s recruiting methods are justified?
7. Consider the bedding the soldiers take from a Christian charity (pages forty-seven and 108) and the “sprouts of progress” from the West that have made their way to the war-torn village of Gomal (page 151). Besides the immediate influence of Mr. Jack, how does the presence of American culture inform the lives of Ackerman’s characters?
8. Aziz is drawn to Fareeda’s deformed arm, and finds that her “beauty rested in the savage contradictions of her body” (page sixty-four). How does his erotic attraction to her relate to her statement on page sixty-six that she is not afraid of men because she only feels the physical pain of the arm? Has Aziz’s attraction changed by page 229, when he realizes “she was a prisoner of her needs, and I’d become the master of them”?
9. Noting that he and Atal both take money for their causes, Aziz wonders if he might also be corrupt. “Still,” he reasons, “the truly corrupt have unreliable motivations, and money is one of the most reliable” (page eighty-five). Does corruption in the Afghan conflict exist abiding Aziz’s logic? Do you agree with his statement?
10. Mumtaz recalls his brother telling him: “Your badal is to take none. Break that chain. Leave the war. Care for Father” (page 165). Do you agree that denying the war’s aggressors is a form of badal for Mumtaz? After taking badal against Gazan and killing Mr. Jack and Atal, Aziz thinks about how Mumtaz would “at some point [...] learn of those choices. This made me want never to see him again” (page 233). What might this reveal about Aziz’s opinion of Mumtaz’s code of honor?
11. As Aziz learns more about the pressure being put on Gomal, he reflects, “In Pashto, Commander Sabir’s type of war is called ghabban: this is when someone demands money for protection against a threat they create. For this type of war, the Americans don’t have a word. The only one that comes near is racket. Our war was a racket” (page 100). By the end of the novel we learn that the full complexity of Sabir’s racket even compels Gazan to keep fighting against his will. Do you think that Sabir is driven only by money? Might he have other prideful agendas?
12. On page eighty-eight Aziz learns that Sabir’s fish Omar is named after “the one-eyed Mullah, Mohammad Omar, the exiled leader of the Taliban [that] the Americans had been lucklessly chasing [...] for years.” What might Sabir’s fondness for his fish signify about his political position? What might the fish symbolize about the war in general?
13. Aziz is at first reluctant to sacrifice Atal in order to kill Gazan, tossing his gun into the mountains on page 219. What ultimately compels him to kill Gazan, Mr. Jack, and Atal on page 224? Did he have a more compassionate view of his enemy before this moment?
14. The “feminine trace” of the tear-shaped opal around Atal’s neck at first “suggested a cunning and manly ferocity” to Aziz (page sixty-two). How do you interpret his decision after Atal’s death to tie the necklace around Fareeda’s neck on page 230?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. With Green on Blue, Ackerman joins the ranks of contemporary war novelists such as Phil Klay and Kevin Powers. Pick Redeployment, The Yellow Birds or another recent war novel to read for your next book club meeting and compare it to this novel.
2. Think about the codes of honor to which you have been exposed personally or through others books and film. How does it compare with the concept of badal? Discuss.
3. Ackerman makes several important references to the Soviet-Afghan War. Predating the U.S. war by nearly two decades, Americans often have less knowledge about this conflict. Do some independent research on the Soviet-Afghan War and share something you did not previously know with your book club.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Outstanding, I will look for any future books written by this author. A fresh look at the importance of history and tribal culture that permeates Afghanistan.
This is a very well witten story and unusual these days, has a satisfying ending. It is a bit slow going at the beginning but moves along smartly at the end. And while there is a moral message underlining it about the idiocy of revenge and war in general,the author doesn't preach. If you struggle with ou long involvement in afganistan, this book will help without a lecture about global politics. Very nicely done!
Wars on the ground are personal, and unexpected