Even after decades of U.S. military involvement, the Middle East remains a mystery to many — if not most — people in the West. In Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria, and Iraq, Sarah Glidden offers a work of meta-journalism that chronicles the experiences of a small band of reporters as they trek through areas many of us may never visit to gather the stories of individuals impacted by U.S. involvement in Middle Eastern affairs. The result is an intimate view of the journalistic process, accented with its own reporting on the lives of both journalists and their subjects.
Glidden accompanies her friends, co-founders of the journalism non-profit The Seattle Globalist, to Turkey, Syria, and Iraq, but the stories they find reach further than that. Rolling Blackouts is peppered with stories of displaced persons in and from all manner of countries. An Iranian traveler converses with them for a while, and both parties wish the journalists could safely visit his country. An Iraqi couple, Momo and Odesa, have taken refuge in Syria, and dream of moving to Seattle. Then there’s Sam Malkandi: a relentlessly cheerful man who was controversially deported after his name appeared in The 9/11 Commission Report.
The team does not travel halfway around the world to tell one story, but to source many. Seattle Globalist co-founder Sarah Stuteville has brought along an old high school friend, Dan, who did two tours of duty in Iraq. Dan vlogs and is interviewed several times over the course of Rolling Blackouts, about his experiences returning to the area and the reactions he receives from Iraqi civilians. Dan’s reluctance to open up to Stuteville and the others serves as a pivotal conflict throughout Glidden’s graphic novel. It is through his almost unbelievably naïve, hyper-pro-American interactions with the people he meets, that Rolling Blackouts gives its most critical look at the two faces of American occupation.
Intimate and slow, but never stagnant, Rolling Blackouts paints a touching portrait of a swath of the globe that remains resilient in the face of terror. Glidden’s fresh-medium storytelling is not to be overlooked or underestimated.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for this review.
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Image: Sarah Shannon