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© Harcourt | © Vintage Press | © Picador | © Mariner Books | © Jonathan Cape | © Windmill Books
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An Introduction To Post 9/11 Literature in 7 Works

Picture of Dana deLaski
Updated: 7 September 2017

It’s no surprise that an event as traumatic as 9/11 would have a near-total influence on the artworks that followed it. As has been said many times about New York City, literature was never quite the same after the attacks, it invaded all works, regardless of whether the author wanted it or not. Some writers, however, were brave enough to tackle the subject head on; here are the results.

Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close

A truly touching and emotional story written by Jonathan Safran Foer about a young boy whose father was killed in the September 11th attacks, Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close should be on the top of anyone’s reading list. It’s told from the perspective of the young boy – making it both unique and endearing, and uses different mediums (letters, pictures, drawings, etc.) to tell its story. Published in 2005, it’s both a mystery and a story of love and growing up, and it’s not to be missed.

Courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

© Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Netherland

Netherland by Joseph O’Neill was published in 2008 and is about a Dutchman in New York during the time of the September 11th attacks. The story follows Hans van den Broek who feels lost and alone after September 11th. He’s a foreigner in New York City and his wife and son has returned to London, so he takes up cricket at the Staten Island Cricket Club, the oldest cricket club in the United States.

Falling Man

Don Delillo’s Falling Manpublished in 2007, is about a survivor of the 9/11 attacks. The novel opens with the main character – a lawyer working in the World Trade Centers – barely escaping, walking back to his apartment from the wreck. The novel is about the effects of the attacks physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Courtesy of Pan Macmillan

© Picador

The Man Who Wouldn’t Stand Up

Taking a different approach to 9/11 literature, The Man Who Wouldn’t Stand Up is a satire about American life post 9/11. It’s about a botanist in New York who loves plants more than anything – including his own country. When he refuses to stand up for The National Anthem at a baseball game, people are enraged and the media erupts. When he refuses to apologize, patriots and press are even more enraged. The novel uses satire and comedy to expose the state of the United States, and it’s both amusing and telling.

The Submission

The Submission was written by Amy Waldman — a reporter for The New York Times who covered the aftermath of 9/11. It’s set in 2003 and is about a 9/11 memorial that’s being built. The architect for the memorial is selected through an anonymous competition, and when the name of the architect is finally revealed, the jury is shocked to learn it’s Mohammed Khan – a Muslim man. Questions are raised, debates are had, and the novel exposes the many sides of the argument.

Courtesy of Windmill Books

© Windmill Books

Bleeding Edge

A novel by Thomas Pynchon published in 2005, Bleeding Edge is a detective story about life post 9/11 and the early onset of the internet. Though not directly about the 9/11, the attacks are a theme that runs throughout the text. Primarily a romantic portrayal of life at the darn of the internet age, Bleeding Edge is a fast-paced mystery that you won’t be able to put down.

The Emperor’s Children

The Emperor’s Children by Claire Messud follows the lives of three friends in their thirties living in New York City, and it takes place a few months before the 9/11 attacks. The three women are well-educated but unsatisfied with their careers, and the story is simply about them living their pre 9/11 and how it changed post 9/11. Written in 2006, it was named one of the ten best books of the year by The New York Times. 

Courtesy of Picador

© Picador

The Faithful Spy

Written by New York Times reporter Alex Berenson, The Faithful Spy opens in the middle of an attack in Afghanistan. The novel was inspired by the author’s time as correspondent in Iraq, and it follows the life of a US spy pretending to work with Al Qaeda. It follows his journey coming home after years in Iraq, but the CIA is now weary of him and is unsure if he is still trustworthy.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist takes place during one evening at a cafe in Lahore. A conversation between a Pakistani man and an American stranger ensues, and the Pakistani tells the American about his love affair with an American woman. In his story of his affair he experiences the September 11th attacks, and he tells the American that after the attacks he felt that people were suspicious of him and treated him strangely in public. The story is of the effects of 9/11 on this Pakistani man, and further, its effects on foreign lands.

Courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

© Houghton Mifflin Harcourt