Journalist and decorated veteran Elliot Ackerman describes the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as "elliptical," referencing their profound complexity and immeasurable human cost. But his first novel, orbits traditional themes of war literature in unusual ways as well. Rather than reflecting on his own experience as a marine captain, Ackerman's pays tribute with a "last act of friendship" to the Afghani soldiers he trained, reckoning their world, in which the conditions of war were different but just as profound. 

Green on Blue's protagonist, Aziz, an Afghani orphan, is drawn into a US-funded Afghan militia after his older brother Ali is wounded. Enlisting is the only option to fund Ali's recovery. Cards are dealt. Hands are forced. Brotherhood, in Ackerman's world (both real and imagined) is born of blood and bloodshed. 

Ackerman's perspective on his five tours of duty seems to have been forged in the relationships he developed in combat, but also grounded in his experience of family and, eventually, fatherhood. It was the birth of my first child, he said, that "allowed me to start understanding why these wars perpetuate." Green on Blue contemplates blood loss in more than just the traditional way, as bloodlines themselves are torn apart.

As someone who "grew up" in the war, Ackerman explores its context with an eye to both the psychological and cultural particulars. "The idea of green on blue becomes a metaphor" Ackerman explained, and his novel investigates "what happens when the cause you fight for destroys you." The story contemplates the bruises of war, but it also penetrates beyond the politics and rage to unpack and examine the kinds of relationships conflict shapes, and the kinds it destroys.

Ackerman is emphatic that "the work of fiction is to build bridges" and to highlight the areas that are common. Those areas are often unexpected.

Researching his next novel, Ackerman found himself in a six hour conversation with a man who had fought for Al Qaida. Although the former marine originally introduced himself as a journalist, within a half an hour, their shared frame of reference became undeniable.

After two hours, as the translator took a break, Ackerman found himself pulling out a notebook, drawing a map, and labeling the places he had fought. Grabbing the pencil, his counterpart began to fill in dates beneath the names. Together they searched for a geographic connection to match their human one. And although they were never in the same place, and certainly not on the same side, perhaps they were from the same time.

And it is that time that lives at the heart of Green on Blue.

>>To listen to the full conversation, please click on the audio above.