I'm sure there are deeply thoughtful and provocative books waiting to be written on the topic of anti-Americanism abroad. This simply isn't one of those. It's provocative, to be sure, but it's far from thoughtful, logical, coherent, or well-reasoned. Instead, it feels like a long narrative by a friend about you become increasingly worried, as she recounts all the nasty, evil and malicious things that everyone has done to her and how everyone has ganged up on her.
In her book, Carol Gould receives a "dressing down", she sits at dinner parties "being berated", she is "tormented" by people "screaming at me". Her only crime, it seems, is to be an American abroad who is willing to draw attention to the fact that there are good things about America. In fact, she's an American who has made her home in London for the last 32 years, as she reminds readers every few pages in this tedious and ultimately deeply irritating book, who now appears to be afraid to emerge from her home for fear of being verbally assaulted and harangued. A man of Middle Eastern appearance who declines to refund her her money for some stale rolls she bought the previous day (she takes one back to show him) is probably an illegal alien, she concludes; she recounts the full confrontation in detail. (I hate to tell her she'd encounter the same attitude her my local Brooklyn, NY Italian bakery if she did the same thing...) "My closest friends suddenly start closing in on me", she writes.
She insists that this isn't just about her, because she is called honey back in the United States by the bus drivers, etcetera, that she encounters. But someone with such a large chip on their shoulder as to fill 240 plus pages of a book with examples of the evil actions of the Brits vis-a-vis their American cousins undoubtedly is sending off hostile vibes of some kind. Certainly, they radiated from the book.
I could go through this, chapter by chapter, pointing out the problems that arise when someone attempts to reason from the particular and the personal to the general; noting that the Margaret Drabbles and Harold Pinters of the world aren't any more representative of the British populace than are the George Bushes that so outrage many Europeans typical of Americans. (And yes, Europeans have a right to their opinions and to voice those opinions; certainly we exercise our view to call them 'weasels' when they don't agree with us and to shape our own foreign policy to suit our own ends. They just don't have the right to insist that we share them, a distinction that seems lost on Gould.)
What bewilders me most, however, is that she seems unaware of some of the reasons Europeans might have for worrying about a unilateralist United States in a unipolar world. This is not new -- she was living in the UK at the time of the Greenham Common protest, for heaven's sake. She doesn't have to share those fears, but Europeans have experienced directly in a way that we in America still have not (9/11 notwithstanding) the dangers of triumphant and self-righteous nationalism, and to fail to grasp the foreign policy issues and concerns that underlie public policy and affect some of the rhetoric on issues like global warming.
Since Gould tells us over and over her qualifications for writing this book are her experiences living as an American expat for that many years, I'll establish my own as a reviewer by noting that I've lived precisely the same number years as an expat in England, Belgium, Canada and Japan. Based on that, I can only conclude that for a professional expat, Gould has a mighty thin skin. In Japan, all 'gaijin', or foreigners, are at one point or another treated like slightly idiotic children. I was called a 'colonial' in London once, and told to go back to America; my Indian-British friend, in contrast, was spat on and called a 'Paki'. It's narrow-mindedness that is the problem -- in England as anywhere else in the world. I've been to the same kinds of events and places that Gould has -- including cafes on Edgware Road -- and not had the same kind of experiences, to put it mildly. I merrily waved my US flag at the Last Night of the Proms in 2006 with no problem or hostility whatsoever (but Gould is shouted at twice and told to put her flag away?) Gould ridicules the young people who use words like 'innit' (instead of isn't it) to punctuate their speech in London; the dialogue outside my front window day-in, day-out is just as illiterate and far more vulgar. Gould dislikes being patronized -- "you haven't lost your accent, then?" -- but long-resident Brits in New York have an equal dislike for being told "you have such a cute accent." Preconceptions run both ways, something to which Gould appears to be completely oblivious.
Of course, anti-Americanism exists. It is what happens when there is one country capable of having a disproportionate impact on all the other countries with which it interacts. And of course any American has encountered the same kind of preconceptions traveling overseas that Europeans encounter here. (She expresses bemusement that Europeans don't always know where Philadelphia is; ask an American to pin Paris or London on a map of Europe...) The reason I purchased this book in the first place was in the hope and mistaken belief that it might offer some better insights in how to lead those discussions into productive channels, or a thoughtful survey of why America triggers this response. (In a nutshell, Gould's analysis is the old standby that they're all jealous.)
A better title for this book might have been "A personal chronicle of my one-woman crusade to end anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism among the chattering classes of London." It reads like something that a very angry and bitter woman might write about her marriage after her husband of 32 years strolls off with another woman. For a glimpse of what it's possible to accomplish on a similar theme, check out Occidentalism: The West in the Eyes of Its Enemies, a very thoughtful and well-written analysis of many of the same issues. If you want something more polemical, turn to Oriana Fallaci (whose existence and opinions would seem, prima facie, to undermine Gould's arguments.)The Rage and The Pride is translated by Fallaci herself, and as such reads somewhat unevenly. Nonetheless, although it's equally provocative, it has the merit of being well structured and reasoned, in comparison. Fallaci reasons; Gould emotes.
This might have made a very interesting magazine article, or even a slim 60 page book (along the lines of Amos Oz's remarkable How to Cure a Fanatic, had a strong editor imposed some focus and some kind of narrative structure to this random collection of chapters ("Dear Archbishop of Canterbury -- Why I Still Adore America", "Mayfair Bans America -- Now and Forever" ). I find many of incidents (the public ones) as disturbing as Gould does, but fail to see how this kind of screed serves any useful purpose. In many ways, I should have been her ideal reader. Instead, I'm horrified, by the book and by Gould's conviction that America should just be prepared to go it alone. She may be able to escape from the evil Brits and return home to isolate herself from anything she doesn't like. But that isn't the way to deal with conflict, and going it alone is one option that no nation has in the 21st century. This could have and should have been a deeply disturbing book, pointing out how anti-Americanism rises and is fueled. It could have been constructive, identifying ways to tackle and work effectively with Europeans in the face of narrow and parochial concerns on both sides. Instead, it's disturbing for all the wrong reasons.
1.5 stars; only rounded up because it at least opens the debate. My copy of this book goes straight into the garbage, however.