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

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  1,045 Ratings  ·  217 Reviews
Suzy 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 an
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published August 15th 2017 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Scott Journalistic writing, especially in America, is always dancing between partisan polarities... in part a need to satisfy the demands of their newspaper…moreJournalistic writing, especially in America, is always dancing between partisan polarities... in part a need to satisfy the demands of their newspaper or network... but also the "concept" of US journalism as the journalists themselves believe exists and how they have defined and shaped their role within that idea for themselves.(less)

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Dana DesJardins
Aug 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
No doubt my rating is skewed by reading this in Istanbul, where I can see proof of Hansen's assertions about the effects of American imperialism all around me. She uses James Baldwin's astute, pellucid writing to establish a paradigm about American "innocence," the willed blindness that allows US citizens not to know who Mossadegh was, even as our tax dollars unseated that democratically elected leader of Iran and ushered in decades of terror, fundamentalism, and economic devastation throughout ...more
Aug 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Tore through this in a day when I ought to have been working on my own writing. Hansen beautifully blends a travelogue/capsule history of Turkey (and its relationship to the USA) and some other countries with her own loss of innocence/ignorance about America's heavy cultural and political boot-print in the world.

Hansen was a successful NYC-based journalist who won a fellowship to live and research abroad. She picked Turkey for an idiosyncratic but ultimately very resonant reason: because she ha
B. Cheng
Aug 22, 2017 rated it liked it
While I would definitely recommend this book, I'm very conflicted about it. There is a lot that I loved, mostly focused on the parts that are a travelouge of the author's time in Turkey. The part about her being seen as a potential "spy" or "CIA" also amused me as a longterm expat who sometimes hears that from local friends or those I come across.

What I didn't like about the book was when she goes forth and moralizes or faces her own white girl/USA privilege. Her complaints about American lack o
Sep 12, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book should be assigned to every incoming college freshman in the United States. Every American should put down "Hillbilly Elegy" and read this book instead.
Apr 29, 2018 rated it liked it
A decent book, and I definitely learned things from it. I know more about Turkey and about Kabul than before I read it, and I'm grateful to it for that. But it can be frustrating, too. A lot of Hansen's book is about how troubling it can be to travel to a country without knowing it's history. That's true! And I genuinely do appreciate her honesty in sharing that.

But it's also somewhat annoying to see Hansen project her own experiences onto the entirety of America. America, as a whole, does not
Tom Glaser
Jul 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The author of “Notes on a Foreign Country” grows up in small town on the Jersey Shore, gets an Ivy League education, becomes a journalist in New York and then gets a two-year fellowship to live in Turkey, a country she knows absolutely nothing about. She stays for 10 years.

This is an interesting memoir for a lot of reasons.

It nicely recounts the process of learning a new language and immersing oneself in an unfamiliar culture. Anyone who’s gone through this – as an exchange student or an immigra
Nov 15, 2017 rated it it was ok
The author is an empty receptacle receiving the ideas of the Turks with no intellectual scrutiny, no historical exegesis and inadequate consideration of the legacy of Communism. According to her, the US is a doe eyed imbecile bull in a China shop. I find it ironic that in this self-flagellating rant about how condescending and ignorant we are of what the US has done to other countries, she is guilty of depriving these victims of any agency in their own history. They are absolved of any responsib ...more
Sep 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Required reading. Never before have I encountered a text that so fully lives up to the promise travel offers to learn about the self. Hansen goes to Turkey, Egypt, Greece, Iran -- and everywhere, she finds America. Not in some kind of narcissistic, navel-gazing way, but in her willingness to confront hard, ugly truths about US foreign policy, and to go beyond initial observation and dig deep into the history. This is a genuinely eye-opening account of American mythology, and its disastrous -- an ...more
Nancy Brisson
Oct 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Suzy Hansen won a writing fellowship in 2007 from Charles Crane, “a Russophile and scion of a plumbing-parts fortune,” and it allowed her to go abroad for 2 years. She went to Turkey, much to the dismay of her family and friends. This grant was rumored to have been reserved for spies but Suzy was in Turkey as a journalist. The book she wrote is called Notes on a Foreign Country: An American Abroad in a Post-American World. Hansen goes off to Turkey believing that America is the exceptional natio ...more
Jen  (Remembered Reads)
Sep 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
I lived in the US for four years and was regularly struck by this unnamed filter through which so many of the people I met seemed to view the rest of the world. This book is essentially Suzy Hansen naming and describing and explaining that filter as she starts to peer around it during her decade of living in Istanbul. An interesting look at US identity hidden under what looks at first to be travel journalism.
Nov 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I read part of this book on a U.S. military base, half an hour before the opening of a USO center. Her words were still in my mind as the keynote speaker brought up the North Korean threat, the Marshall plan, the importance of American military might in sustaining peace in the Pacific and the support the USO provides by ensuring that American service members never have to leave the U.S., no matter where they may be stationed, they are "home away from home."

This goes straight to the heart of the
Thorn MotherIssues
Sep 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-2017
"I wondered how often it was that anyone told white Americans the truth." Here's a rare book about learning to hear truth anyway.
Robert Sheard
Nov 15, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
While this is incredibly complex (as is America's involvement in every part of the planet), it is beautifully written and incredibly thoughtful.
Aug 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I probably have no qualifications to write a review for this book since I will be the first to admit that I'm not a very good American. I withdrew from the American political process decades ago for reasons I'm not sure I can entirely articulate, but Hansen's impressions resonate with me in so many ways: "The America that exists within its own borders is not the same America that exists beyond them," and "The world is not necessarily a better place simply because America deigns to interfere with ...more
Aug 30, 2018 rated it did not like it
It's staggering that a well-educated thirtysomething started out so ignorant about the world and America's sins, especially for someone who studied "civil rights in college." Unsurprisingly Notes on a Foreign Country turns into just another Westerner-discovering-oneself-via-a-foreign-country-experience book.

Her historical narrative removes any agency for people around the world. America acts upon victimized nations. Also, her retelling of American imperial history is ponderous, a little basic,
Cyrus Carter
Aug 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Well written and provocative stories which show a less-than-benevolent American foreign policy and the author's discovery of what it really means to be an American abroad.
Many of her American readers will bristle at this evidence-based account set over 10 years primarily in Turkey, with sojourns to Egypt, Afghanistan and indeed a return to the USA.
Suzy Hansen is an excellent story-teller with a journalistic style and a nose for the truth. Her book has made me think hard about my own role as an e
Karen Chung
Jun 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
We Americans think lots and lots about ourselves and our country, but maybe not so often about the effects our ideas, choices and behavior have on the rest of the world. This book is a much-needed wake-up call.
A must-read for Americans willing to face our country's responsibility for creating the world we live in.
Peter Geyer
It's hard to know where to start with this fascinating book. It's a memoir; a travel book; an examination of American foreign policy of the past century, more or less, particularly in the Middle East; that country's understanding of other cultures (government and people), an examination of Turkish culture and history, and what Turks and others think about Americans, possibly foreigners in general; and America in general, its self-perceptions and presumptions. Other things, too.

Suzy Hansen is an
Jul 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
If you read any of the negative reviews of this book, you’ll see the same sentiment over and over: they want to defend American exceptionalism and point out that America is, indeed, better than Nazis, Russian communists, Islamic leaders, and that we couldn’t possibly be THAT bad so that we need to feel GUILTY about anything.

In short, they further prove Hansen’s point: Americans have an impossibly hard time not seeing themselves as exceptional and heroic, and not viewing capitalism and imperiali
Elizabeth Theiss
Sep 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Sometimes it's easier to see one's own country most clearly by traveling outside of it. I remember the incredulity of an Edinburgh cab driver at the reelection of George W. Bush. The curiosity of French friends about the separation of powers and perpetual congressional gridlock. Suzy Hansen took a writing fellowship in Istanbul and stayed ten years. This book recounts her reflections on the American identity and its impact on Turkey, the Middle East, and the world. It's not pretty.

American forei
Jul 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
Suzy Hansen is awarded a fellowship that sends Americans abroad to report on foreign countries. Her first stop, on what turns into the better part of 10 years over seas, is to Turkey. She chooses Turkey because her favorite author James Baldwin lived in Instanbul and said "he felt more comfortable as a black, gay man in Instanbul than in Paris or New York City" which made no sense to her. She quickly learns that while she knows next to nothing about Turkey or the many other places she references ...more
Nov 16, 2018 rated it liked it
I wasn't always crazy about the writing style, and it's a heavy, discouraging read. But I'm glad I read it. I don't think I've read anything quite like it before, and now I feel compelled to. I also appreciate Hansen's honesty about herself and her own ignorance and obliviously patriotic upbringing. She's got 11 years on me and seems to be from a slightly more conservative/republican community, but my school years also had plenty of cringeworthy ignorant moments, in retrospect, and I still conti ...more
Emily Polson
Oct 29, 2018 added it
Recommended to Emily by: Rosy
I was an American abroad recently, so I thought I knew what I was getting into with this book, but wow. Hansen rocked my understanding of American identity to the core by critiquing her own past belief in her objectivity as an outsider. I expected the narrative to be based primarily in Hansen's personal experiences, but she unravels concepts of American individualism and points the focus of her narrative outward to look at America as a whole. This presents a lot of complicated, convicting ideas ...more
Oct 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
I am not quite sure how to describe this book. I thought it would be a memoir, that's how it is described, a story of the author's 10 years in Istanbul. But it isn't a story of her life there, it is her growing understanding of America's role in the creation of the modern Middle East, with all its tragedies, that is the central theme of her book. I never lost interest in this story but it did take me much longer than usual to read. And I guess I'm proof of her thesis -- Americans don't have any ...more
Katie Peach
Oct 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: books-i-own
“Over the course of our conversation I asked him what Iraq was like in the 1980s and 1990s... “I am always amazed when Americans ask me this,” he said. “How is it that you know nothing about us when you had so much to do with what became of our lives?’”

This book should be required reading. Suzy Hansen describes her experience of moving to Istanbul and learning so much about Turkey’s unique culture and politics and how we view the world as Americans. She did such a great job capturing what it's l
Nov 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
I first heard about this book on The New York Times Book Podcast. Pamela Paul interviewed the author Suzy Hansen. I was intrigued because I had recenty (2014) spent a week in Istanbul. Hoping that it would be more of a travelogue so I could relive my vacation. There are parts that bring me back to my vacation but what I really found in this book was what I kind of knew right along as an avid travel to foreign countries was how Americans/America is viewed by other countries. It is not favorable. ...more
Michelle Haskin
Aug 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
The book was only partially about Turkey, mostly about the author's relationship to her American identity and the consequences of American hegemony in both her life and the lives of people around the world. It was a good read but started slow, and the author's extremely naïve musings in the first half nearly turned me off until she reached a place of higher understanding, but that was the point.
Sep 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I am convinced that only American expatriates who have lived for an extended period abroad are able to see the United States of America for what it really is: an empire, and not at all a benign one. This realization comes gradually, one surprise at a time, as the American abroad first encounters an odd disconnect between other people's friendliness toward Americans and a deep resentment, if not hatred, toward the USA. Asked for an explanation, you learn history that no one ever learns in US scho ...more
Aug 27, 2017 rated it liked it
Interesting, difficult, at times extremely dry, at times eye-opening.
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“Anti-Americanism is not some bitter mental disorder inflamed by conspiracy theories and misplaced furies and envy. It is a broken heart, a defensive crouch, a hundred-year-old relationship, bewilderment that an enormous force controls your life but does not know or love you.” 6 likes
“But it is very, very rare that young white Americans come across someone who tells them in harsh, unforgiving terms that they might be merely the easy winners of an ugly game, and indeed because of their ignorance and misused power, they might actually be the losers within a greater moral universe.” 6 likes
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