Elliot Ackerman was decorated for his service in the Second Battle of Fallujah in 2004. Ten years later, he returned as a journalist while the fight with the Islamic State in Syria waged on. Places and Names is a memoir that tracks the winding path between those two points, for the author and the region. Ackerman has been both a soldier amidst intense combat and a writer looking from a slight remove at the geopolitical and personal effects. Places and Names is a skilled synthesis of both viewpoints. Recommended By Keith M., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
From a decorated Marine war veteran and National Book Award Finalist, an astonishing reckoning with the nature of combat and the human cost of the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria.
“War hath determined us.” — John Milton, Paradise Lost
Toward the beginning of Places and Names, Elliot Ackerman sits in a refugee camp in southern Turkey, across the table from a man named Abu Hassar, who fought for Al-Qaeda in Iraq, and whose connections to the Islamic State are murky. At first, Ackerman pretends to have been a journalist during the Iraq War, but after establishes a rapport with Abu Hassar, he takes a risk by revealing to him that in fact he was a Marine special operation officer. Ackerman then draws the shape of the Euphrates River on a large piece of paper, and his one-time adversary quickly joins him in the game of filling in the map with the names and dates of where they saw fighting during the war. They had shadowed each other for some time, it turned out, a realization that brought them to a strange kind of intimacy.
The rest of Elliot Ackerman’s extraordinary memoir is in a way an answer to the question of why he came to that refugee camp and what he hoped to find there. By moving back and forth between his recent experiences on the ground as a journalist in Syria and its environs and his deeper past in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, he creates a work of astonishing atmospheric pressurization. Ackerman shares extraordinarily vivid and powerful stories of his own experiences in battle, culminating in the events of the Second Battle of Fallujah, the most intense urban combat for the Marines since Hue in Vietnam, where Ackerman’s actions leading a rifle platoon saw him awarded the Silver Star. He weaves these stories into the latticework of a masterful larger reckoning, with contemporary geopolitics through his vantage as a journalist in Istanbul and with the human extremes of both bravery and horror.
At once an intensely personal book about the terrible lure of combat and a brilliant meditation on the larger meaning of the past two decades of strife for America, the region and the world, Places and Names bids fair to take its place among our greatest books about modern war.
“[Ackerman's] understanding of war is so profound that one feels like secrets have been revealed — truths — information that one day may be necessary for our survival. Well done.” Sebastian Junger, author of Tribe
“[Places and Names] contains many insights into the purpose of war and how it damages all parties involved....Any fan of Ackerman’s previous novels, memoirs on the Iraq or Afghanistan wars, and valuable outlooks on the nature of war and its combatants will find this phenomenal.” Library Journal (Starred Review)
“[A] searing, contemplative, and unforgettable memoir-in-essays....Deeply personal yet never losing sight of the big, historical reasons for recent events, this collection...is perhaps the finest writing about the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts that has been published to date.” Booklist (Starred Review)
“A profoundly human narrative that transcends nationality and ideology.” Kirkus (Starred Review)
About the Author
Elliot Ackerman is the author of several novels including Dark at the Crossing, which was a finalist for the National Book Award, and most recently Waiting for Eden. His writings appear in Esquire, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and The New York Times Magazine, among other publications, and his stories have been included in The Best American Short Stories and The Best American Travel Writing. 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. He divides his time between New York City and Washington, D.C.
Elliot Ackerman on PowellsBooks.Blog
I had already been covering the wars in Syria and Iraq for a couple of years when I found myself in London over a weekend with my girlfriend, Lea, whom everyone calls Chui. We’d decided to wander the National Portrait Gallery on an uneventful Saturday afternoon...