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An American’s Tale of Policy and Progress

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Karl Vick is an editor at large at TIME. He has also served as TIME's Jerusalem bureau chief. He has reported from 60 countries and in 2001 was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for coverage of the spread of AIDS in Africa.

In 2007, at the age of 29, Suzy Hansen moved from New York City to Istanbul. The same city had provided refuge to James Baldwin, whose writing opened Hansen’s eyes to an essential truth to which she had been blissfully ignorant: that she was not just an American but a white American, a position so privileged, it afforded the luxury of blissful ignorance.

Notes on a Foreign Country is Hansen’s ardent, often lovely attempt to take self-awareness overseas. It doesn’t come along peacefully. But then Baldwin wrote of people in intimate proximity, while Hansen tackles the sins of U.S. foreign policy. Her humans are separated by thousand of miles and opposing governments — Washington, and the ones it manipulates. The one easy thing here is Hansen’s company. In Dubai, “sky and the water melt into an aluminum-hued oblivion.” A Hilton “had the benevolent totalitarian aesthetic of the United Nations.” A nurse speaks “in a tone that makes you want to put your head on her shoulder.” If Noam Chomsky could write like this, Hansen’s work would already be done.

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