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Veteran novelist Elliot Ackerman speaks at MUB

By Tom Spencer, Staff Writer

Eliott Ackerman’s resume includes being a marine veteran, war correspondent and novelist.

Students and faculty gathered in the Memorial Union Building Theater II to watch Ackerman read from his novel “Green on Blue” on Thursday.

Ackerman’s love of fiction began with his mother, who is a novelist.

“I grew up around books,” Ackerman said.

When Ackerman graduated from Tufts University in 2003, he had a choice to make: serve in the war or not. Ackerman chose to serve as a marine. Now based out of Istanbul, Turkey, he draws on the people and places he has encountered to write fiction.

Ackerman recalled the struggle of answering what his book was about early on in the work, and then gave a summary of plot.

“It is the story of an Afghan who kills an American, told through the perspective of the Afghan,” Ackerman said.

But according to Ackerman, there is more to the book than war stories. 

“My background might lead you to believe it’s a war novel, but it’s not,” Ackerman said. “It’s a book about brothers. Love, family, betrayal and what we do when we are placed in an impossible situation where all our options lead to a negative outcome.”

Ackerman recited several excerpts from his book. The crowd sat in silence during each passage. There was strong applause after the final reading. Then the floor was opened to questions.

The title, “Green on Blue,” refers to an attacks in which an Afghan solider turns his weapon on his American advisor.

That fact does not mean Ackerman remembers the Afghans as villains. Ackerman himself was an advisor in special operations. His book was a way of remembering his Afghan comrades.

“These Afghans [and I] had fought together, we bled together” Ackerman said. “They were my war buddies.”

But unlike his fellow American veterans, there was no way for Ackerman to keep in touch with them after his service ended. 

“I started writing this book in many respects to reckon with that loss, and try to render their world as a last act of friendship to them,” Ackerman said.

After Ackerman recited passages from “Green on Blue,” the floor was opened to questions. Audience members asked about Ackerman’s educational background, his writing process and his inspirations for characters.

Considering the main character of “Green on Blue” is an Afghan, there was also a question about Ackerman’s thoughts on cultural appropriation. Ackerman believed it was better to look at writing as a way of being culturally empathetic.

“What is art for, if not to cross a chasm,” Ackerman said. “Otherwise, we are prisoners of our own experience.”

That viewpoint was what made Ackerman’s speech and book powerful for Michael Toner, a second year graduate student in the creative writing program.

“He was writing from a perspective that we don’t see,” Toner said. 

After questions, the audience was invited to go see the Conflict Zone, a gallery of war photojournalism on display in the Dimond library.

“It’s imagery we don’t see on the news,” said first year creative writing student Jesse Duthrie of the exhibit. “You can see the looks of terror on [the subject’s] faces.”

Duthrie was also at Ackerman’s talk. He enjoyed both Ackerman’s book and lecture.

“It wasn’t the action story you expected,” Duthrie said. “It was really human. Moments were slowed down.”

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