A contemporary love story set on the Turkish border with Syria. Haris Abadi, an Arab American with a conflicted past, is robbed attempting to cross into Syria and join the fight against Bashar al-Assad's regime. He is taken in by Amir, a charismatic Syrian refugee and former revolutionary, and Amir's wife, Daphne, a sophisticated beauty haunted by grief.
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.