» This Story:Read +| Comments

Book review of 'How They See Us: Meditations on America,' edited by James Atlas

Discussion Policy
Comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate comments or material will be removed from the site. Additionally, entries that are unsigned or contain "signatures" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. Finally, we will take steps to block users who violate any of our posting standards, terms of use or privacy policies or any other policies governing this site. Please review the full rules governing commentaries and discussions. You are fully responsible for the content that you post.
Sunday, December 27, 2009

HOW THEY SEE US

Meditations on America

This Story

Edited by James Atlas

Atlas. 274 pp. Paperback, $14

If the examined life is still of any consequence in this country, now is a good time to look abroad for insight. Editor James Atlas puts the means to do so in our hands with this probing collection of essays.

The contributing writers are an international assembly of voices who bring into sharp focus the post-9/11 United States and its damaged relations with other countries. Although held together by no common ideology, these writers share the virtue of deep reflection. By turns, they are enraged, betrayed, awed and hopeful that America, which has been humbled by 9/11 and brought to the antithesis of its optimism in Iraq, can re-envision its ideals. For Leilah Nadir, an Iraqi Canadian, the war in Iraq has shattered her image of the United States as a beacon of human rights; she unleashes her disillusionment by calling the United States "a note threatening to kidnap my children."

To Luís Fernando Veríssimo of Brazil, O.J. Simpson's fall from grace was much like that of Jay Gatsby, who thought he could cross the boundaries of American class and culture, but failed. Veríssimo links that reminder of the loss of New World innocence to an awkward conversation between himself and a fellow airplane passenger, an American woman unaware that the World Cup is taking place in her own country. Ultimately, the woman apologizes for knowing so little about Brazil, and Veríssimo ends the essay with a touch of humility: "After all, I, too, could be completely wrong about her country."

-- Jean Hwang



» This Story:Read +| Comments
© 2009 The Washington Post Company