In his debut, a Dutch immigrant reflects on his decision to permanently relocate his family to the United States and the future of the country he now calls home.
Jager has a unique perspective, informed by his twin experiences of growing up in the Netherlands and raising a family across the Atlantic in America. The book opens with a brief memoir recollecting his time in the Netherlands and, by extension, looks at the plight of Western Europe as the specter of the Soviet Union still haunted the continent. The author draws unexpected comparisons between the political trajectories of the Netherlands and the United States—particularly their commitments to democracy and pluralism—and uses each to critique the other. Although the author finds social life in the U.S. unsatisfying, at best a “mixed bag,” he’s impressed by the country’s economic opportunity, its spirit of entrepreneurship and its historic resilience in the face of adversity. Culturally, however, Jager struggles to reconcile his intellectual cosmopolitanism with what he sees as the general provincialism of Americans isolated from the rest of the world. More than half the work is devoted to an ambitiously comprehensive diagnosis of the country’s current challenges, covering a diverse range of topics that include gun control, campaign spending, health care, unemployment, terrorism, tolerance and inequality. While always thoughtful, the author has no claim to expertise on these subjects and so offers little that’s fresh. His discussion on immigration, however, is enhanced by his own personal experience, and he writes briskly about the ways in which the current system fails: “A problem with the current immigration policy in the USA is that we make illegal immigration too easy and legal immigration too hard!” The book as a whole tries to serve too many functions—personal recollection, sweeping political commentary, cultural analysis—and is a bit disjointed as a result. It does manage, however, to deftly combine serious criticism with a sense of hopefulness, crafting what the author rightfully calls an “optimistic book.”
A cogent look at the United States from someone who’s seen it as an outsider and as an insider.