Guernica Magazine

Suzy Hansen: The Rest of the World Knows

The writer on living abroad in Istanbul and the fraught concepts of American innocence and empire. The post Suzy Hansen: The Rest of the World Knows appeared first on Guernica.
Cover image: Macmillan.

I met Suzy Hansen when we both lived in Istanbul and attended a fundraising dinner for refugees. It was fall of 2012, and the refugees in question were a handful of West Africans trying the then unusual tactic of crossing into Europe through Turkey. One topic of conversation was the Turkish government’s increasing authoritarianism, but the latest outrage was barring Istanbul’s drinking establishments from setting up tables in the back alleys. The resistance responded by gathering to drink beer in the shadow of the twelfth-century Galata Tower. In other words, there were authoritarian clouds on the horizon, but no one knew about the dark turns ahead.

Suzy moved to Istanbul in 2007 on an ICWA fellowship and has been based there as a foreign correspondent since. Fleeing the recession, I moved there in 2010 to work a university teaching job. In the past year, we both have published books rooted in our early years in Istanbul—hers is a memoir called Notes on a Foreign Country: An American Abroad in the Post-American World, and mine a novel called Not Constantinople. Last month, over Skype and email, we had a chance to discuss writing as expats, James Baldwin, our love of Istanbul, and our current transnational political moment.

Nicholas Bredie for Guernica

Guernica: Why don’t we start with the figure of the American abroad, what it’s like to represent that experience? For me, when it comes to writing the American abroad, it’s like two sides of the same coin: there’s the American innocent who appears in Henry James’s The Ambassadors and then the flipside of that, The Ugly American. I think in some ways they’re the same character from different perspectives. So when you were writing about yourself in your early years in Istanbul and other parts of Turkey, Greece, and Afghanistan, did you ever think of yourself in those terms?

James Baldwin talked about this kind of innocence in : “It is the innocence was to show the ways I had lived up to his terrible conception of the American innocent as someone who lived with little to no sense of responsibility for American history.

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