Saturday, September 10, 2011

Five best works of literature on 9/11

Amy Waldman was a reporter for The New York Times for eight years. She spent three years as co-chief of the South Asia bureau after covering Harlem, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and the aftermath of 9/11. She was also a national correspondent for the Atlantic.

She has been a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study and at the American Academy in Berlin. Her fiction has appeared in the Boston Review and the Atlantic, and was anthologized in The Best American Non-Required Reading 2010.

The Financial Times called The Submission, her first novel, “the best 9/11 novel to date.”

In an interview with Eve Gerber for The Browser, Waldman talked about five of the best works of literature about 9/11, including:
A Widow’s Walk
by Marian Fontana

The next work I’d like to discuss is about one widow’s search for meaning after she lost her firefighter husband, on 9/11. Please tell us about Marian Fontana’s memoir A Widow’s Walk.

The reason why I have trouble with some of the fiction about 9/11 is a lot of it seems to be about people very peripherally affected: New Yorkers of a certain class whose lives were interrupted but who readjusted. Marian Fontana is not one of those people. Her life was completely rewritten. She writes, with great eloquence, about the very human wake of 9/11, the difficulty of balancing public and private grief when you lose someone, and the challenge of mourning while caring for a toddler.

You asked me to pick five works of fiction, but I insisted on a memoir because in this case it’s particularly difficult for novels to compete with reality. I didn’t read a lot of 9/11 fiction but in the ostensible 9/11 novels I did read, their attempt to muster emotion couldn’t begin to compete with Fontana’s reality. But then again, I don’t think fiction about this event or period should consider it sufficient to try to replicate that emotion – it needs to recast it, or twist it back on itself, or examine, which is partly what I was trying to do, where it leads, what its meaning is for our society or democracy.

The memoir also tells the story of how Fontana founded the 9/11 Families Association. One of the main characters in your novel is chosen to represent 9/11 families in selecting a memorial. And in your novel you convincingly and fearlessly describe how the tumult surrounding the attacks gave shape to lives left rudderless after the loss of loved ones. Was your novel inspired by this memoir?

Fontana, because of her position, could be more honest than most fiction writers dared to be. I loved lines like, “It has been interesting to watch each politician adopt a family member like a pet.” Or after dinner with another activist family member: “We accomplished little tonight, because while we are trying to operate like a business, the fact is we are nothing like one, as encumbered by our grief as we are fuelled by it.” On some level, I was probably inspired by her honesty in trying to etch the experience of my characters.
Read about another book Waldman discussed.

Also see: Five of the best new 9/11 books and eight worthy 9/11 books.

--Marshal Zeringue