We love Sarah Glidden. You should know that up front. We loved her first book, How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less and we loved this, her second book, Rolling Blackouts, subtitled Dispatches from Turkey, Syria and Iraq. Before you roll your eyes and switch away bemoaning our lack of critical detachment know that (a) we don’t know Sarah Glidden in person, in the real world, and (b) our love is based solely on the fact of these two books. The books are what has made us love her. And they are so good that we can stand there, in the bold light of day, hand on heart and unafraid. We love her. She is great. Obviously though, you’re a discerning punter and our declarations of love – as sweet and well-intentioned as they are, no doubt – aren’t quite enough to slip between you and your hard earned money so we are prepared to give you more, to detail the whats and the wherefores.
Where How to Understand Israel… could more easily be described as a memoir, Rolling Blackouts is more of a straightforward piece of reportage (Glidden accompanies two friends, (another) Sarah and a guy called Alex, who are part of a Seattle news agency called the Seattle Globalist, as they travel across three countries looking for stories, in the company of a former marine, Dan, who Sarah (not Glidden) grew up with). As with Joe Sacco’s books, Glidden is a presence throughout (and one of the things that make her books so appealing are the shapes Glidden contorts herself through in order to do the right thing and be true to what she is seeing) but what sets Rolling Blackouts apart from its predecessor is the cooler eye Glidden brings to bear. She tells stories here, she relates what people tell her, we hear views and we are left to put some pieces together and make up our own minds (on such things as the US invasion and occupation of Iraq). Glidden has a light touch and it serves her and the reader well.
And, although not strictly speaking a novel, there is a reassuring novel-like quality to the tale – much of which centres on Sarah (not Glidden) and her relationship with Dan, former childhood friend, a person she grew up and experienced a tragedy with (another friend of theirs killed themselves) and the distance that developed between them largely as a result of what on the surface appear to be conflicting feelings about the invasion of Iraq. The ways in which Glidden imparts their various interviews and interactions (without fear, in a way that gives the reader a sense that she is putting the story first rather than her relationship with either the other Sarah or Dan) is fascinating, as is the deft way she ducks a neat resolution at the climax. You sense, as a reader, that each frame is ripe with choices Glidden has made and you feel, time and time again, Glidden chooses right. As a reader you are in safe hands.
Of course, there is much, much more to the book than the relationship between two people. Glidden is a journalist and in addition to considering the role of journalism and news as the three journalists in the party make their way from city to city and country to country looking for the stories with hooks that are likely to resonate with the young audience back home, we are gifted with a credible and competent journalist’s ability to render intense complication in a straightforward and resonant way (a good example of this are the different reactions to the US invasion, from intensely favourable to intensely distressing, as they travel). And last but by no means least this is an almost 300 page graphic book and Glidden’s art is as enthralling as her journalistic eye. We’ve commented elsewhere about the similarities that exist between Glidden’s use of colour and Rutu Modan and yet it almost does her a disservice to compare her to others because right now there is no one doing what Glidden is doing (getting into the meat of the modern world in graphic form, eschewing easy answers, avoiding a hardline agenda, seeking to offer a view and letting readers make up their own minds etc).
Any Cop?: Two books in, Glidden has very quickly established herself as a writer whose books we would happily queue at dawn for. We can’t recommend her enough.