Notes on a Foreign Country
An American Abroad in a Post-American World
Pulitzer Prize Finalist
Winner of the Cornelius Ryan Award
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. However, increasingly, 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, 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.
Praise for Notes on a Foreign Country
"Deeply honest and brave . . . A sincere and intelligent act of self-questioning . . . Hansen is doing something both rare and necessary."—Hisham Matar, The New York Times Book Review (cover)
"Hansen turns a coming-of-age travelogue into a geopolitical memoir of sorts, without sacrificing personal urgency in the process . . . Her long stay in Istanbul (she’s still there) gives her an outsider’s vantage on myopic American arrogance that is bracing. And her fascinating insider’s view of Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s rise upends Western simplicities . . . The experience is contagious."—Ann Hulbert, The Atlantic
"A piercingly honest critique of the unexamined white American life."—The New Yorker
"Informed by deep reading in the history of U.S. foreign policy . . . At a time when our wrenching politics have turned our gaze on ourselves, [Hansen's] book is a necessary tonic."—Christian Lorentzen, New York Magazine
"[Hansen] asks probing and difficult questions that left me ruminating about their significance in our current political climate . . . An insightful read for any American who is, has been, or will be living abroad . . . Hansen’s book serves as a call to serious reflection and action for white Americans, even, and perhaps especially, the liberal, well traveled, and well intentioned."—Rebecca Barr, Los Angeles Review of Books
"Compelling . . . [Hansen] vividly captures the disorientation we experience when our preconceived notions collide with uncomfortable discoveries . . . Rare and refreshing . . . Hansen's principal injunction to Americans to understand how others view them and their country's policies is timely and urgent."—Ali Wyne, The Washington Post
"Searching and searing . . . [Suzy Hansen] combines a brisk history of America’s anguished intervention in the region; artful reporting on how citizens in Turkey and its neighbors view the United States today; and unsparing self-reflection to explain how she, an Ivy League-educated journalist, could be so ignorant of the extent of her country’s role in remaking the post-World War II world . . . Notes on a Foreign Country is a testament to one journalist’s courage in digging deep within herself to understand the real story and to make sure she gets it right."—Barbara Spindel, The Christian Science Monitor
“Hansen’s must-read book makes the argument that Americans, specifically white Americans, are decades overdue in examining and accepting their country’s imperial identity . . . Hansen builds her winning argument by combining personal examination and observation with geopolitical history lessons. She is a fearless patriot, and this is a book for the brave.”—Emily Dziuban, Booklist (starred review)
“To be an American is of itself, George Santayana once wrote, a moral condition and education. Notes on a Foreign Country embraces this fate with a unique blend of passionate honesty, coruscating insight, and tenderness. A book of extraordinary power, it achieves something very rare: it opens up new ways of thinking and feeling.”—Pankaj Mishra, author of Age of Anger
“It is rare to come across an American writer who has moved through the world—especially the Islamic world—with the acute self-awareness and thoughtfulness of Suzy Hansen. She has deftly blended memoir, reportage, and history to produce a book of great beauty and intellectual rigor. Everybody interested in America and the Middle East must read it.”—Basharat Peer, author of A Question of Order
“Lucid, reflective, probing, and poetic, Hansen’s book is also a searing critique of the ugly depths of American ignorance, made more dangerous because the declining U.S. imperial system coincides with decay at home. The book is a revelatory indictment of American policy both domestic and foreign, made gripping by Hansen’s confident . . . distillation of complicated historical processes and her detailed, evocative descriptions of places, people, and experiences most American audiences can’t imagine.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Reviews from Goodreads
Read an Excerpt
It is still not clear if the United States—a country formed in great measure by those who have themselves escaped vast catastrophes, famines, dictatorships, persecution—it is far from certain that the men and women of...