“To Cross into a War Should be Difficult”
Borderlands and Transcultural Identities in Elliot Ackerman’s “Dark at the Crossing”
Keywords: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.
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