Oscar and Lilian Handlin show us how the new voyagers in the twentieth century--from Asia, Africa, Australia, and Latin America--record their experiences in the United States. The narratives of the non-Europeans, they find, clearly reflect the circumstances of their composition, as well as the political prejudices of their authors. These literary products have earned far less attention than those of the English, French, Germans, and Russians, and this volume proposes to redress the balance.
The earliest of the thirty-one travel accounts was written by Rabindranath Tagore in 1924, and the most recent by V. S. Naipaul in 1989. Many accounts are newly translated from Arabic, Persian, Hebrew, and Spanish. Some authors are well known, but the less famous are equally insightful. Some insights are weighty, many are amusing. Octavio Paz, a sympathetic observer who admired his country's neighbor, was uneasy that the most powerful country in the world sustained "a global ideology…as outdated as the doctrine of free enterprise, the steam boat, and other relics of the nineteenth century." The Israeli journalist Hanoch Bartov observed that "God conceived the car first, with man an afterthought, created for the car's use (a Southern California legend)." In coming to a truer understanding of the United States, these writers noted the frightening repercussions of unsettled lives, perceived class differentiation, contentions regarding the status of women, the sense of national unity amid diversity, and countless other issues of concern to those who try to find meaning in the contemporary world.
In their thorough and lucid introduction to this collection of travel reports, the Handlins describe perceptions of and attitudes toward the United States in non-European countries. The visitors' observations that constitute the body of the book vary widely in point of origin and point of view. A few are by well-known authors--Rabindranath Tagore, Octavio Paz. Most are by journalists or students or diplomats. These travelers observed racism, economic disparity, poor school systems, and a number of other regrettable but familiar deficiencies. They occasionally found something to admire. What holds a reader's attention, providing occasional surprises and even amusement, is the way a particular writer views his material and the relationship of that view to his personal background. Travelers, whether they want to or not, carry their own countries with them, and some of the countries one encounters in this collection are decidedly engaging.
The 'Outer World' of the title is the world outside and apart from the Atlantic Civilization of Europe and the United States, but including Australia and Israel, which the editors define as 'settler societies.' Hitherto, though plenty of attention has been paid to European travellers who have visited the Americas, the impressions and opinions of Outer World travellers have not been much noted. By anthologizing a selection of 'western voyages' by modern travellers from Asia, Africa, Australia and Latin America, the Handlins set out, as they put it, to redress the balance somewhat. The [book's] intention--to achieve a sort of defamiliarization by looking at one's country through the eyes of visitors from cultures which do not share some of its basic assumptions--is an admirable one.
- 512 pages
- 6-3/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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