Notes on a Foreign Country: An American Abroad in a Post-American World

In This Review

Notes on a Foreign Country: An American Abroad in a Post-American World
By Suzy Hansen
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017
288 pp.

Hansen has been conned, and she is angry and guilt-ridden. She grew up near the Jersey Shore in the 1980s and was raised on the myth that the United States is a shining “city upon a hill,” a benevolent power that labors to elevate other countries to its lofty height. Hansen, a writer for The New York Times Magazine, has lived in Istanbul since 2007, 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. Inspired by her muse James Baldwin (who also lived in Istanbul for a time), she sees Americans as emotionally impoverished. In Hansen’s view, every U.S. action overseas is suffused with an underlying racism and almost always accompanied by violence, and any U.S. gain inevitably comes at the expense of the rest of the world. In her portrait, the American beast is so overpowering that other people and societies seem stripped of all responsibility for their own conditions.

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