“You cannot grow up in the second half of the 20th century in the United States of America and live abroad in the 21st century and not feel it all the time,” writes former ICWA fellow Suzy Hansen in her new book Notes on a Foreign Country. Out this month from Farrar, Straus and Giroux, the book is a tour-de-force combination of reportage, history and personal narrative.
A journalist and editor based in Istanbul, Suzy is a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine, and has written for the likes of The London Review of Books, and Vogue and GQ magazines. She first moved to Turkey to take up her ICWA fellowship in 2007. Before that, she worked as an editor at Salon.com and The New York Observer, and has since traveled to many places, including Libya, Afghanistan and Egypt, for her work.
Suzy was in Washington this week, when ICWA hosted a book chat with her—co-sponsored by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting—during which she regaled the audience about her life as an American abroad grappling with her growing awareness of the US role in the world and its effects on her perception of her country.
She described arriving in Turkey knowing very little about the country or America’s influence on its history and identity. As her understanding of Turkey grew, she learned the importance of its founding myth as a secular, international, nationalist, autocratic country that was now becoming an isolated, Islamist, nationalist, autocratic country. She describes Turkish nationalism as the country’s “ugly, violent heart.” Although she mainly writes about living in Turkey in the book, she includes travels to Greece, Afghanistan, and Egypt, and living in New York and her hometown in New Jersey.
However, the book’s overarching aim, Suzy said, was to hammer home the major geopolitical effects of what she describes as Americans’ insidious self-delusional nationalism—and their general ignorance of the US role in key global events from the beginning of the 20th century.
She also discussed her ICWA fellowship and how the freedom it gave to cultivate friendships, travel and otherwise immerse herself in a foreign culture was a life-changing opportunity, but also a serious challenge in a culture about which she knew so little. She spent a lot of her first year reading, she said, crucial to her understanding of the American role in Turkey’s history and identity.
Many thanks to the Pulitzer Center for partnering with ICWA for the event, and special thanks to ICWA’s Saira Rahman, who organized it.