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Likely Stories: Green on Blue by Elliot Ackerman


I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, Non-Fiction, and Poetry.

According to the dust jacket, 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.  His essays and fiction have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The new Republic, and Ecotone, among other publications.  He currently lives in Istanbul, where he writes on the Syrian Civil War.  He is a true hero.


The story is told through the eyes of a young boy in the days before the American invasion of Afghanistan.  Ackerman writes, “Many would call me a dishonest man, but I’ve always kept faith with myself.  There is an honesty in that, I think. // I am Ali’s brother.  We were from a village that no longer exists and our family was not large or prosperous.  The war that came after the Russians but before the Americans killed our parents.  Of them, I have only dim memories.  There is my father’s Kalashnikov hidden in a woodpile by the door, him cleaning it, working oiled rags on its parts, and the smell of gun metal and feeling safe.  There is my mother’s secret, the one she shared with me.  Once a month she’d count out my father’s earnings from fighting in the mountains or farming.  She’d send me and Ali from our village, Sperkai, to the large bazaar in Organ, a two-day walk.  The Organ bazaar sold everything: fine cooking oils, candles to light our home and fabrics to repair our clothes.  My mother always entrusted me with a special purpose.  Before we left, she would press an extra coin in my hand, one stolen from my father.  Among the crowded stalls of the bazaar, I would slip away from my brother’s watchful eye and buy her a pack of cigarettes, a vice forbidden to a woman” (3). 

Elliot describes life in the village, he writes, “Like most men, my father farmed a small plot.  He understood the complexity of modest tasks—how to tap the ever-shifting waters of an underground karez, how to irrigate a field with that water, how to place a boulder at the curve of a furrow so the turning flow would not erode the bend.  He taught these lessons to me and Ali.  We grew, working by his side, our land binding us together, sure as blood (4).  From this early page, I can feel sympathy for the difficult lives they led.

The story continues, In the warm months, my father would head to the mountains, to fight.  His group operated under the Haqqanis, and later joined Hezbe-Islami, but loyalties shifted often.  My brother told me that when my father was killed, his group was again with the Haqqanis but now they served under the Taliban.  For a boy, these things meant little.  Sometimes I wonder how much they matter to a man” (4). 

Green on Blue by Elliot Ackerman is a gripping story of those tough and rugged times of that most terrible war.  5 Stars.

Likely Stories is a production or KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and Happy Reading!

Life-long voracious reader, Jim McKeown, is an English Instructor at McLennan Community College. His "Likely Stories" book review can be heard every Thursday on KWBU-FM! Reviews include fiction, biographies, poetry and non-fiction. Join us for Likely Stories every Thursday featured during Morning Edition and All Things Considered with encore airings Saturday and Sunday during Weekend Edition.