“Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria, and Iraq” by Sarah Glidden is a graphic novel that asks, “What is journalism?” This book, recipient of the 2017 Lynd Ward Graphic Novel Prize, follows the author as she accompanies two reporter friends and an Iraq war veteran into a highly complex political region. Throughout the trip, the reader sees how refugees, government administrators and military personnel react to journalists and tell their personal stories. Glidden’s words are accompanied by her watercolor illustrations, highlighting the tension, anger, frustration and friendship encountered along their journey.
The goal of this trip was to tell stories that weren’t typically shared from these regions--like the story of Amin and Mina, Iranian refugees. Amin, an Iranian blogger, was thrown in prison for publishing books that were not approved by the government. After he was released from prison, he and his bride, Mina, fled to Turkey where they live as political refugees. Another refugee, an Iraqi Kurd named Sam, was rebuilding his life in the U.S. when his name appeared on a 9/11 government report. He was detained for five years and then deported, though he was never convicted of a crime. And Dan, a former marine who served time in Iraq, undergoes a painful journey of self-reflection when hears the stories of refugees and others impacted by war. He wonders how he can express empathy for the death and destruction in the region when he played an active role in it.
Glidden’s “Rolling Blackouts” was selected by the Lynd Ward Graphic Novel Prize jury as the best graphic novel, fiction or nonfiction, published in 2016 by a living U.S. or Canadian citizen or resident. The jury said, “Her book brings her readers to the front lines of war in the Middle East with storytelling that is intimate, engaging and frequently humorous. The images welcome the reader into the complex, many-layered world of the Middle East, and Glidden is a terrific guide.”
At the beginning of “Rolling Blackouts,” a Syrian woman pleads with a journalist, “Understand me. Please understand me.” Glidden herself asks at the end of the book, “What is journalism FOR? What’s the point? Is it telling the story that came to you, even if it’s not the one that you went out looking for?” “Rolling Blackouts” immerses the reader in these questions, uncovering the roles that journalism and journalists play in this turbulent time of “fake news,” uncertainty for refugees and political unrest.
Reviewer Ellysa Cahoy is assistant director of the Pennsylvania Center for the Book.