Waiting for Eden (Ackerman)

Waiting for Eden 
Elliot Ackerman, 2018
Knopf Doubleday
192 pp.

A breathtakingly spare and shattering new novel that traces the intersection of three star-crossed lives.

Eden Malcom lies in a bed, unable to move or to speak, imprisoned in his own mind.

His wife Mary spends every day on the sofa in his hospital room. He has never even met their young daughter. And he will never again see the friend and fellow soldier who didn't make it back home—and who narrates the novel.

But on Christmas, the one day Mary is not at his bedside, Eden's re-ordered consciousness comes flickering alive.

As he begins to find a way to communicate, some troubling truths about his marriage—and about his life before he went to war—come to the surface. Is Eden the same man he once was: a husband, a friend, a father-to-be? What makes a life worth living?

A piercingly insightful, deeply felt meditation on loyalty and betrayal, love and fear, Waiting for Eden is a tour de force of profound humanity.
Show More  (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—April 12, 1980
Where—Los Angeles, California, USA
Education—B.A., M.A., Tufts University
Currently—lives in Istanbul, Turkey

Elliot Ackerman is an American author, currently based out of Istanbul. He is the son of businessman Peter Ackerman and the brother of mathematician and wrestler Nate Ackerman.

Early life
At the age of 9, his family moved to London where he lived until the family moved back to Washington, DC, when he was 15. He studied literature and history at Tufts University, graduating summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa in 2003, in a special program to earn Bachelor's and Master's degrees in 5 years, rather than the usual six. He holds a Master’s degree in International Affairs from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, and has completed many of the United States military’s most challenging special operations training courses.

Beginning in 2003, Ackerman spent eight years in the U.S. military as both an infantry and special operations officer. He served multiple tours of duty in the Middle East and Southwest Asia. As a Marine Corps Special Operations Team Leader, he operated as the primary combat advisor to a 700-man Afghan commando battalion responsible for capture operations against senior Taliban leadership. He also led a 75-man platoon that aided in relief operations in post-Katrina New Orleans.

Ackerman served as Chief Operating Officer of Americans Elect, a political organization founded and chaired by his father, Peter Ackerman, and continues to serve on its Board of Advisors. Americans Elect is known primarily for its efforts to stage a national online primary for the 2012 US Presidential Election. As one of its officers, Ackerman was interviewed extensively, notably on NPR's Talk of the Nation.

He has served on the board of the Afghan Scholars Initiative and as an advisor to the No Greater Sacrifice scholarship fund. Most recently, Ackerman served as a White House Fellow in the Obama Administration.

Ackerman currently lives in Istanbul with his wife and two children and writes on the Syrian Civil War.

Ackerman's fiction and essays have appeared in The New Yorker, Atlantic, New Republic, New York Times Magazine, Ecotone and others. He is also a contributor to the Daily Beast, and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He has been interviewed in the Washington Post, New York Times, and Wall Street Journal and appeared on Charlie Rose, Colbert Report, NPR's Talk of the Nation, Meet the Press, CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, Al Jazeera and PBS NewsHour among others.

Ackerman's first novel, Green on Blue, published in 2015, with Publishers Weekly referring to the novel as "bleak and uncompromising, a powerful war story that borders on the noir." Los Angeles Review of Books describes the novel as a radical departure from veterans writing thus far due to his choice of a first person narrator, the lowly Aziz, a poor soldier in a local militia.

Military Honors
Ackerman is a decorated veteran, having earned a Silver Star and Purple Heart for his role leading a Rifle Platoon in the November 2004 Second Battle of Fallujah and a Bronze Star for Valor while leading a Marine Corps Special Operations Team in Afghanistan in 2008. Ackerman is also a recipient of the Major General Edwin B. Wheeler Award for Infantry Excellence. (Adapted from Wikipedia. Retrieved 2/10/2015.)

Book Reviews
(Starred review) This is a deeply touching exploration of resentment, longing, and loss among those who volunteer to fight and the loved ones left behind.
Publishers Weekly

(Starred review) With sparse prose and a deft pen, Ackerman writes a profound meditation on the liminal space between our past, present, and future. —Joshua Finnell, Colgate Univ., Hamilton, NY
Library Journal

(Starred review) Gorgeously constructed.… Unique.… A deeply moving portrayal of how grief can begin even while our loved ones still cling to life.… A wonderful novel.

(Starred review) Wounded terribly in Iraq three years ago, a soldier awaits his death in a burn center in San Antonio, and we learn of his fate through a surprising, unconventional, and risky narrative strategy.… An affecting, spare, and unusual novel.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. Who is the narrator of the novel? How does he know Mary and Eden’s story? How does Ackerman’s decision to narrate from this point of view deepen the reader’s understanding of Mary and Eden’s lives?

2. Examine the symbolism of the cockroaches. How does Eden understand their presence? What do they represent to him?

3. How would you describe Eden’s level of consciousness? What does he register about his reality? To what extent is his perception of reality distorted? Is there anything he is sure of? Are the nurses correct in their assessment of Eden’s level of consciousness?

4. Consider the theme of pain as it is depicted in the novel. Which characters experience pain, and what type of pain do they experience? Do you understand Eden’s pain to be greater than the pain of the other characters? Why or why not?

5. Explore Mary and Eden’s relationship. How did they meet? What were the early months of their relationship like? When and why does a rift form in their marriage?

6. Examine Gabe’s character. Who is he? Why does he take an active interest in Eden? How does Eden feel about him?

7. What is SERE school? How was Eden’s experience at SERE school similar to his experience in the hospital?

8. Explore the theme of time as it is depicted in the novel. How do the different characters perceive the passage of time? What are the characters waiting for? Can you identify any key symbols of time or waiting?

9. Why do you think Mary pursues the narrator? Is she remorseful about what happens between them, or does she stand by her decision?

10. Explore Mary’s feelings about Eden’s fate. Does she think it’s best for Eden to die, or does she want to prolong his life? Does her opinion on this matter change over the course of the novel? Consider, as you answer this question, the themes of abandonment and betrayal.

11. Examine Eden’s dream in which he reunites with the narrator. Where does this reunion take place? How would you characterize their attitude toward one another? What does Eden mean by his assertion, "You know it’s easiest on us" (137)? Do you agree with him?

12. The novel concludes with the final lines of John Milton’s Paradise Lost. How does this quotation inform your interpretation of the novel and its resolution?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

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