Fountain was driving to Galveston, Texas, in March 2003,
about a week after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, when he
caught a glimpse of the literary future.
was thinking, ĎTheyíre out there,í" Fountain
says from his Dallas home. "Those men and women who
are going to write the novels of the next generation are
out there in that sandstorm right now."
would be several years before he would conceive and
create his own award-winning war-themed
novel, "Billy Lynnís Long Halftime
Walk." But give him points for foresight. The
last few years have seen a steady stream of first-rate
fiction written by veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan
wars. The latest is Elliot Ackermanís "Green
on Blue," which takes its title from the code used
for an Afghan police or military attack on coalition
forces. Ackerman served five tours of duty in Iraq and
Afghanistan and was a primary combat adviser to a
700-man Afghan commando battalion.
book is hardly the only searing fiction to come out of
the wars. Other highlights include Phil Klayís "Redeployment,"
winner of the 2014 National Book Award for
fiction; "The Yellow Birds," by Kevin
Powers (a graduate of the Michener Center for Writers at
the University of Texas at Austin); and "Fives
and Twenty-Fives," by Michael Pitre.
on Blue" stands apart in one crucial respect:
The story is told in the voice of Aziz, an Afghan
orphan swept into the ranks of a U.S.-funded Afghan
militia. As Aziz explains early on, "the militants
fought to protect us from the Americans and the
Americans fought to protect us from the militants, and
being so protected, life was very dangerous."
who dedicated the book to two of the Afghan friends he
made in his battalion, does a masterful job putting us
in Azizís shoes and opening a door to the war as seen
from native combatants. He also allows us to experience
a war that exists seemingly to keep itself going.
war was being fought for every reason but the ending of
the war," Ackerman says by phone from a cafe in
Istanbul, where heís researching his next novel and
reporting on the Syrian civil war for The New
Yorker. "I wanted to trace the anatomy of a
perpetual war and show that paradigm."
was amazed at Ackermanís ability to step outside of
himself and into another culture.
a very smart cat," Fountain says. "By all
accounts he was an excellent soldier, but he never
stopped thinking for himself."
bookís characters include the types of people Ackerman
a militia leader, the militant commander, the village
elder stuck between the militants and the Taliban, and
the American commander, playing puppet master to the
best of his ability and trying to influence events on
the ground," Ackerman says. "Itís the war in
also a departure from the war-at-home theme that surges
through many other Iraq and Afghan war fiction. The
first short story in "Redeployment," for
example, follows an Iraq veteran back to the States,
where he tries to get reacquainted with his wife and
adjust to a world without kill-or-be-killed combat:
"As glad I was to be in the States, and even though
I hated the past seven months and the only thing that
kept me going was the Marines I served with and the
thought of coming home, I started feeling like I wanted
to go back. Because [expletive] all this."
of these books carry the sting of authenticity and the
sensory expression of experiences lived. They also
reflect the power of story to get at larger truths and
probe painful emotion. As Ackerman sees it, that pain
belongs not just to the veteran writers, but to the
country as a whole.
at a reckoning right now with whatís happened over the
last 14 years, and with the identity of our
country," Ackerman says. "People are starting
to look for answers, and a lot of times we look for the
deeper truth in fiction." He also thinks thereís
a lot more to come. The first great Vietnam novel, Tim OíBrienís "The
Things They Carried," he notes, wasnít published
thing about perpetual wars: They have no definitive
ending. The next great war novelist might be finishing a
final tour and deciding, like Ackerman did as his time
in Afghanistan wound down, to capture some of those
greater truths with pen and paper.
one of the unique things with this generation of
vets," Ackerman says. "Because the wars havenít
ended, each of us have had to make our own separate
peace and decide when the war is over for us."