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

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  2,095 ratings  ·  381 reviews
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 under ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published August 14th 2018 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published August 15th 2017)
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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  ·  review of another edition
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
B. Cheng
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
Aug 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Suzy Hansen moved to Istanbul and found she had a lot of work to do to confront what it means to be a white American in the world. I found it thought provoking although I did get a little bogged down in the Iran-Egypt-Afghanistan parts at the end, just too much information to absorb.

"I judged the Turks; every time I read of another massacre, another disgrace, I somehow brought it to bear on the collective character of the people I was meeting, as if that history had formed then. But then what 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. ...more
Nov 15, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 01, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
"This is hard for many people in the West to understand," I said. "I think they cannot understand Turkey," he said. "First of all, Turkey's a narcissistic society. One way we think we are the best, the other way we are very fragile. We can easily believe that we are humiliated. Yet we also have arrogance of an empire. If you try to teach something to Turks, they reject it. You must praise them first: Turks, yes you are the best." He paused, smoking. "For example, we learn that Atatürk said, 'One ...more
Nov 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 29, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
N.L. 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
Aug 30, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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,
Jen  (Remembered Reads)
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.
Karen Chung
Jun 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Thorn MotherIssues
Sep 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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. ...more
Robert Sheard
Nov 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
While this is incredibly complex (as is America's involvement in every part of the planet), it is beautifully written and incredibly thoughtful. ...more
Jan 12, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy
As the title suggests, this book revolves around an American woman who moved overseas. Hansen highlights what it's like to know only a fraction of your countries history, though some aspects are considered common knowledge to those in other countries. She focuses on Turkey and Egypt in particular, though she makes several over-arching conclusions I also agree with and in general captures the feeling of leaving the country for the first time. ...more
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  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 25, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Cyrus Carter
Aug 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
A must-read for Americans willing to face our country's responsibility for creating the world we live in. ...more
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
Nov 16, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 30, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this for a book club and the author graciously joined us for a virtual chat after we read it. She is very down to earth and I appreciated the author's honesty regarding her own journey and development that living in another country facilitated. I wish more travel/expat authors would practice the self examination of being an American abroad as she did by consistently clarifying herself as a WHITE American expat abroad, and recognizing her own biases and subjectivity that came along with gr ...more
May 20, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I picked this up because it was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and it looked interesting, in part because many reviews noted it read like a travelogue, which I enjoy. I must be living on a different planet from people who thought this read like a travelogue, which it should not be described as even partly. The title however was apt, as this read like notes. Suzy was a completely annoying apologist for being white and American (you know, a white American could still have something positive to ...more
2.5 stars, the book has some good points, but overall I think there are better books out there on this same subject. Suzy Hansen is a good writer. But, as she freely admits, as she began her life abroad (in Turkey) she was naive almost to the point of ridicule. She discovers over time how much the U.S. has meddled in the governments and lives of people around the world. Now don't get me wrong, she is far from being alone as an American ex-patriot in that position. But everything she talks about ...more
Interesting, difficult, at times extremely dry, at times eye-opening.
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