...[a] remarkably revealing book ... a deeply honest and brave portrait of an individual sensibility reckoning with her country’s violent role in the world ... Notes on a Foreign Country is a sincere and intelligent act of self-questioning. It is a political and personal memoir that negotiates that vertiginous distance that exists between what America is and what it thinks of itself. That dramatic, dizzying and lonesome chasm is Hansen’s terrain ... Hansen is doing something both rare and necessary; she is tracing the ways in which we are all born into histories, into national myths and, if we are unfortunate enough, into the fantasies of an empire. She traces the ways in which 'Americans were in active denial of their empire even as they laid its foundations.' She is interested in and does well to expose the machinery — the propaganda, the economic authoritarianism, the military might, the manipulative diplomacy, the myriad aid agencies and NGOs — that made this possible ... The tone is at once adamant and intimate. This is a book that is spoken softly rather than screamed; and one senses that it took great personal discipline to be so. In fact, what is admirable is the extent to which Hansen implicates herself. She does this soberly and without self-pity. She is, to herself, independent but by no means innocent ... The problem, however — and it is a problem to do with conversion — is that it is assumed that the question is one of persuasion. If only America were like Hansen: disquieted, self-analytic and imaginative. Perhaps, in other words, Americans know that they feel superior and are quite content with their superiority. Perhaps their naïveté, if that is what it is, is not as deep as Hansen imagines; perhaps they are aware of the myth of themselves and have simply decided it is too useful a myth to give up.
...a searching and searing book ... Hansen writes with both authority and humility and, occasionally, with sharp beauty ... Some of the book’s strongest passages involve her rigorous interrogation of the notion of American exceptionalism, of America as the pinnacle of a historical narrative of progress, which she realizes she has internalized ... Also fascinating is the author’s evolving understanding that despite her faith in her journalistic objectivity, the myths she has absorbed affect the way she tells stories from around the globe ... 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.
On the surface, Hansen’s book appears to have a similar premise. A young, white, American woman decides to leave New York to take a writing fellowship in Turkey, and through this experience, she has a series of small realizations that culminate in an epiphany about her identity ...characterize her years as an American abroad not as 'a joyous romp of self-discovery and romance' but as 'more of a shattering and a shame' ... All of these pieces of her as an individual and as part of the collective white Americanness that she attempts to identify and define throughout the book snake through the historical and political narrative that she weaves ... While it bears traces of memoir and of travel writing, her methodology also taps into ethnography and political theory.