Notes on a Foreign Country: An American Abroad in a Post-American World by Suzy HansenSuzy Hansen left her country and moved to Istanbul and discovered America
In the wake of the September 11 attacks and the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Suzy Hansen, who grew up in an insular conservative town in New Jersey, was enjoying early success as a journalist for a high-profile New York newspaper. Increasingly, though, the disconnect between the chaos of world events and the response at home took on pressing urgency for her. Seeking to understand the Muslim world that had been reduced to scaremongering headlines, she moved to Istanbul.
Hansen arrived in Istanbul with romantic ideas about a mythical city perched between East and West, and with a naïve sense of the Islamic world beyond. Over the course of her many years of living in Turkey and traveling in Greece, Egypt, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran, she learned a great deal about these countries and their cultures and histories and politics. But the greatest, most unsettling surprise would be what she learned about her own country—and herself, an American abroad in the era of American decline. It would take leaving her home to discover what she came to think of as the two Americas: the country and its people, and the experience of American power around the world. She came to understand that anti-Americanism is not a violent pathology. It is, Hansen writes, “a broken heart . . . A one-hundred-year-old relationship.”
Blending memoir, journalism, and history, and deeply attuned to the voices of those she met on her travels, Notes on a Foreign Country is a moving reflection on America’s place in the world. It is a powerful journey of self-discovery and revelation—a profound reckoning with what it means to be American in a moment of grave national and global turmoil.
Notes on a Foreign Country: by Suzy Hansen
When I was 12 years old, living in Cairo, my parents enrolled me in the American school. Most of the Americans there appeared oddly stifled, determined to remain, if not physically then sentimentally, back in the United States. It seemed particularly inconvenient that they had ended up in an Arab country. Even the urinals and hand dryers had been shipped from America. This is what concerns Hansen. According to her, the situation has gotten worse.
August 7, Several years ago, journalist Suzy Hansen met an Iraqi man and asked him what Iraq was like when he was growing up there in the s and s. Hansen faced a version of that question more than once after moving to Istanbul in and traveling widely throughout the Middle East. Hansen had no particular connection to Turkey when she moved there after receiving a writing fellowship from the Institute of Current World Affairs. The fact that her favorite writer, James Baldwin, had lived in Istanbul off and on in the s, claiming to feel more comfortable there than in New York or Paris, also captured her imagination.
I FIRST PICKED UP Suzy Hansen's book with slight trepidation; the title, Notes on a Foreign Country: An American Abroad in a Post-American.
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Hansen has captured the nigh-ineffable spirit of U. The book is a keen and penetrating meditation on the decline of the United States, which, as Hansen states, has been slowly rotting from the inside out for a couple of decades. Notes on a Foreign Country argues instead that at the core of the U. While living abroad, she came to see the United States in a way that is impossible for someone who lives here. The insidiousness of American identity, particularly white American identity, is invisible from New York, but lights up like a neon sign when standing in Istanbul, surrounded by an entirely different culture and way of thinking and being in the world. Hansen embeds her reflections in the work of another U.
Jump to navigation. Hansen has been conned, and she is angry and guilt-ridden. Hansen, a writer for The New York Times Magazine , has lived in Istanbul since , and during her time there—as well as on reporting trips to places such as Afghanistan, Egypt, Greece, and Iran—the scales have fallen from her eyes. She writes well—at times grippingly—about these places. But the end result is a caricature. She attributes no redeeming features to the United States or to Americans.