Based in Istanbul, Ackerman is familiar with the formidably volatile and increasingly dangerous southern border zones with Syria. Much of this slender novel is set in the once pleasant city of Gaziantep — or Antep — whose texture he renders with economical accuracy and with gathering unease. It’s a physical landscape that rarely appears in novels, and Ackerman has learned it well — a twilight world of desolate roads, refugee tents, hordes of scavenging boys, desperados and lethal con men ... Ackerman’s novel is unusual for a young writer in that it improves as it moves along rather than the reverse. The first third is heavily weighted by flashbacks relating Haris’s life in Michigan with his sister and his time in Iraq dominated by his relationship with another soldier. To my mind, these chop the narrative and restrain its momentum. There are also repeated descriptions and phrases that could have been ironed out more elegantly. Things improve, however, in the last half, as Ackerman allows his tale to unfold more directly and with more uncluttered velocity ... Dark at the Crossing is unusual in that few of its characters are Western — a bold move in a culture obsessed with 'appropriation.' Whether this makes them convincing to an Arab ear is hard to say, but Ackerman’s decision is clearly motivated by empathy and a desire not to tell his story through characters thinking and speaking his own language. I commend him for that; he has created people who are not the equivalents of the locally exotic subjects in your average NPR story, and he has used them to populate a fascinating and topical novel.
As a journalist reporting on the war in Syria since 2013, Ackerman’s eye for detail grounds this novel in a space that quickly transports readers into a world few Americans know ... The novel starts slowly over the first few mini-chapters, as if the author’s pen needed to knock off a bit of rust from its undercarriage. And there are a couple of instances when Ackerman doesn’t trust the reader enough, but overall, the writing is multivalent and propels us forward ... Dark at the Crossing is not only a fictional meditation on remorse, betrayal, love and loss, but also a journey that returns us to the beautiful and broken world we live in.
Mr. Ackerman, who lives in Istanbul and has written some fine reportage from the Turkish borderlands, knows Gaziantep well and sharply depicts its incongruities ... Abandonment forms a mournful theme in Dark at the Crossing. Daphne is haunted by the fact that her daughter’s body was never recovered and, with her husband’s fatalistic consent, decides to follow Haris to Aleppo on a hopeless quest to find it ... moral confusion gives Dark at the Crossing its bleak power ... Mr. Ackerman shows boldness and empathy in trying to envision modern conflagrations from foreign vantage points. But the book is less successful at capturing the illuminating particulars of the Syrian tragedy, the things that make it different from other blasted Middle East warzones. His writing is journalistic rather than imaginative.
In a series of well-deployed flashbacks, readers see the brutal incidents that served to disillusion Haris with his former employers (one of the book's best-drawn characters, a sergeant named Jim, looms over these segments) ... Ackerman can be a maddeningly uneven writer. His prose can swing from plodding to evocative in the span of a single paragraph, very likely a reflection of the contesting aims of telling a poignant individual story like that of Haris and also providing readers with a broader-perspective look at complex cataclysms like the Syrian Civil War ... These moments are frequent and lovely, but pulling against them constantly are the larger societal stories Ackerman equally strongly wants to tell. These wide-canvas stories are as well-dramatized as the smaller, more personal triangle of Haris, Amir, and Daphne, but they often feel like they belong in a different book ... but the plot itself, pitched between headline-grabbing news stories and the ordinary people lost in their clamor, will keep readers engrossed to the final pages.
While his acclaimed first novel, Green on Blue, focused on Afghanistan, Dark at the Crossing moves into Syria by way of Iraq. But it moves at first at a leisurely pace...Crossing simply follows Haris in his dogged attempts to get into Syria. His determination holds in the face of repeated reminders that the Free Army is almost defeated, though not by Assad ... For his American readers who tend to think in the stark terms of good guys and bad guys, Ackerman makes clear the tangled, shifting lines in the war ... This is a tightly packed, nuanced narrative in which virtually every character introduced plays a pivotal role. The story is told with economy and a sense of urgency even when the characters seem to be stuck in a holding pattern.