“To Cross into a War Should be Difficult”

Borderlands and Transcultural Identities in Elliot Ackerman’s “Dark at the Crossing”





borderlands, border-crossing narrative, Middle East, postcolonial, Elliot Ackerman


Set a few years after the start of the Syrian civil war, Elliot Ackerman’s novel Dark at the Crossing (2017) offers a close look at the life along the border between Turkey and Syria while following the protagonist’s quest for purpose and his paradoxical attempt at crossing into war-torn Syria. This essay argues that the novel constructs the borderland as a space of violence influenced by economic and political interests that separate people both physically and spiritually, while global capitalism builds a sanitized environment to the benefit of diplomats and aid workers, as the shopping malls and luxury hotels of Gaziantep stand in stark contrast with the explosions a few miles away in Azaz. I use Homi Bhabha’s concept of hybridity to situate the protagonist Haris Abadi, a former Iraqi interpreter who acquired American citizenship, as well as many of the characters living in the borderland as transcultural characters influenced by European and American imperialism who struggle to find their place in the world, all unfortunate victims of an imagined line—or, in Gloria Anzaldúa’s words, “unnatural boundary”—drawn by Western powers a century earlier. Through their hybrid nature they pose an inherent challenge to traditional notions of citizenship and belonging and expose the imperialist practices at work in and around the Syrian civil war. While most American border writing is understandably concerned with the southern border with Mexico or the concept of the frontier, I argue that Dark at the Crossing offers a unique perspective on the ramifications of war, globalization, and American imperialism in the Middle East.


Abrams, David. Fobbit. London: Harvill Secker, 2013.

Ackerman, Elliot. Dark at the Crossing. New York: Vintage, 2017.

---. Green on Blue. New York: Scribner, 2015.

---. Waiting for Eden. New York: Vintage, 2019.

Anzaldúa, Gloria E. Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. San Francisco: Aunt Lute Book Company, 1987.

Anzaldúa, Gloria E. and Analouise Keating. This Bridge We Call Home: Radical Visions for Transformation. New York: Routledge, 2002.

Bascara, Victor. Model-Minority Imperialism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006.

Bhabha, Homi K. The Location of Culture. New York: Routledge, 1994.

Bromley, Roger. Narratives of Forced Mobility and Displacement in Contemporary Literature and Culture. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2021.

Gallagher, Matt. Youngblood: A Novel. New York: Atria Books, 2016.

Hämäläinen, Pekka and Samuel Truett. “On Borderlands.” The Journal of American History 98.2 (2011): 338-361.

Kumar, Deepa. Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire: Twenty Years After 9/11. Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2012.

Lester, Alan and Fae Dussart. Colonization and the Origins of Humanitarian Governance: Protecting Aborigines across the Nineteenth-Century British Empire. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

Mazza, Jacqueline. “The US-Mexico Border and Mexica Migration to the United States: A 21st Century Review.” SAIS Review of International Affairs 37.2 (2017): 33-47.

Moslund, Sten Pultz. Migration Literature and Hybridity: The Different Speeds of Transcultural Change. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

Powers, Kevin. The Yellow Birds: A Novel. London: Sceptre, 2013.

Purio, Sean. “Crossings and Connections: A Conversation with Elliot Ackerman.” War, Literature and the Arts: An International Journal of the Humanities 28.1 (2016): 1-9.

Rabo, Annika. “Trade Across Borders: Views from Aleppo.” State Frontiers: Borders and Boundaries in the Middle East. Edited by Inga Brandell. London: I.B. Tauris, 2006.

Robinson, William I. “Global Capitalist Crisis and Twenty-First Century Fascism: Beyond the Trump Hype.” Science & Society 83.2 (2019): 481-509.

Rosas, Gilberto. “The Fragile Ends of War: Forging the United States – Mexico Border and Borderlands Consciousness.” Social Text 25.2 (2007): 81-102.

Schimanski, Johan. “Crossing and Reading: Notes Towards a Theory and a Method.” Nordlit 19.1 (2006): 41-63.

Shaheen, Jack G. Reel. Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People. Northampton: Olive Branch Press, 2009.

Shryock, Andrew. “The Moral Analogies of Race: Arab American Identity, Color Politics, and the Limits of Racialized Citizenship.” Race and Arab Americans Before and After 9/11: From Invisible Citizens to Visible Subjects. Edited by Nadine Naber and Amaney Jamal. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2008. 81-113.

Shohat, Ella and Robert Stam. Unthinking Eurocentrism: Multiculturalism and the Media. New York: Routledge, 2014.

Stoddard, Ellwyn R. “Border Studies as an Emergent Field of Scientific Inquiry: Scholarly Contributions of U.S.‐Mexico Borderlands Studies.” Journal of Borderlands Studies 1.1 (1986): 1-33.

Young, Robert J. C. Colonial Desire: Hybridity in Theory, Culture and Race. New York: Routledge, 2005.






Articles (general section) - American language, literature, and culture