A Journalist Abroad Grapples With American Power

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The New York Times book review of Notes on a Foreign Country: An American Abroad in a Post-American World 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. The school’s architecture and grounds did all they could to remedy this. Even the urinals and hand dryers had been shipped from America. It was as though they believed, as Suzy Hansen observes in her remarkably revealing book, “Notes on a Foreign Country: An American Abroad in a Post-American World,” that “as you went east, life degraded into the past.”

This was in the early 1980s, before the two gulf wars and the “war on terror,” and yet even back then I wondered whether to be an American in the world was to be limited by a sort of imaginative obstacle. This is what concerns Hansen. According to her, the situation has gotten worse. “We cannot,” she writes, “go abroad as Americans in the 21st century and not realize that the main thi.ng that has been terrorizing us … is our own ignorance — our blindness and subsequent discovery of all the people on whom the empire-that-was-not-an-empire had been constructed without our attention or concern.”  Read more.

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