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The Top 8 Novels Written In Response To 9/11
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The Top 8 Novels Written In Response To 9/11

Picture of Taylor Haacke
Updated: 6 January 2017
September 11, 2001 is regarded as one of the most devastating events in United States’ history. Occurring a little over a decade ago, that tragic day still sits fresh in the minds and hearts of American citizens, as well as those all across the world. As we take time to mourn, honor, and remember those who lost their lives on the day that would forever shape history, we examine 8 novels written in response to the 9/11 attacks.
Falling Man | © Scribner
Falling Man | © Scribner

Falling Man

With a title mirroring that of ‘The Falling Man’, the iconic and unsettling photograph of a man falling to his death during the 9/11 attack, Falling Man revolves around the story of Keith Neudecker, a man who escapes the burning Twin Towers only slightly injured and returns to the apartment he had once shared with his son and estranged wife. After a short period of recuperation from the physical and mental trauma of the September 11th events, Keith re-enters a life of domestication with his wife, Lianne, while beginning a romantic relationship with Florence, another 9/11 survivor whose briefcase Keith absentmindedly rescues during his escape from the collapsing buildings. In the second half of the story, Keith abandons his domestic routine and makes a living by traveling the world to participate in professional poker tournaments. Don DeLillo’s 2007 novel examines how American identity was reconstructed and reinvented following the September 11th attacks.

The Zero

Jess Walter’s 2006 novel, The Zero, takes place just days after September 11th, 2001. Police Officer Brian Remy wakes to find himself recovering from a gunshot wound, a self-inflicted injury which he does not recall inflicting. Brian begins to experience gaps in his memory, and his life turns into a confusing conglomerate of events. His son refuses to acknowledge that he is still alive; his old, eccentric partner gets his picture on a box of “First Responder” cereal; and he fails to recall his beautiful new girlfriend’s name. Grief and the smoke of catastrophe still hang thick in the air of his once beloved city as Brian tries to piece his life back together one strange event at a time.

American novelist Jess Walter | © Dadsmom/Wikipedia
American novelist Jess Walter | © Dadsmom/Wikipedia

Windows On The World

First published in France, Windows on the World brings a global perspective to the attack of September 11, 2001. This parallel narrative alternates between Carthew Yorsten, a tourist from Texas dining with his two sons at the Windows on the World restaurant on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center, and the author himself, having breakfast atop a Paris skyscraper, both on the morning of September 11th. The plot is structured in alternating minute-by-minute chapters from 8:30 AM to 8:46 AM, when the first plane hit, with each chapter averaging three pages. The final chapter of the book closes at 10:29 AM, one minute after the collapse of the World Trade Center. This gripping 2003 novel from Frédéric Beigbeder’s demonstrates the impact of 9/11 on a global scale.

Viewers atop Two World Trade Center observation deck looking north toward mid-Manhattan. | ©TedQuackenbush/WikimediaCommons
Viewers atop Two World Trade Center observation deck looking north toward mid-Manhattan. | ©TedQuackenbush/WikimediaCommons

The Emperor’s Children

Set in Manhattan in the months leading up to September 11th, The Emperor’s Children focuses on three friends in their 30s doing what they can to make their way in New York City. All three are well-educated and privileged, navigating life in the city as best as they can, and living life in the moment. Claire Messud crafts a rich, compelling, and thought-provoking story with her 2006 novel.

Ordinary Day

An exceptionally ordinary man named Elliot Graham falls asleep in his remarkably ordinary apartment one night during the tremendously ordinary year of 2014 and wakes to find himself in his old apartment the morning of September 11, 2001. Once he composes himself, Elliot attempts to warn both the authorities and American citizens about the impending attack. Published in 2014, Russell N. Reiling Jr.’s Ordinary Day conveys the frustration of our inability to change the course of history.

The Kite Runner

This dramatic novel written by Khaled Hosseini and published in 2003 tells the story of Amir and Hassan, the first being a young boy from the Wazir Akbar Khan district of Kabul and the latter a young Hazara servant. Amir and Hassan are best friends during a violent period in history, with the fall of Afghanistan’s monarchy, the migration of refugees to Pakistan and the United States, and the upsurge of the Taliban’s rule. After witnessing a brutal and gruesome act against Hassan without intervening, Amir spends the rest of his life attempting to absolve himself for this act of treachery. Amir seeks solace in the United States until he is drawn back to his hometown. Over the course of the story, September 11, 2001 is the single event which creates discussion in the United States regarding the cities of Amir’s childhood. A critical and commercial success, The Kite Runner gives a unique perspective on an Afghan-American’s experience with 9/11.

Ian McEwan, a british writer, photographed during the 2011 Paris book festival. / © Thesupermat/Wikicommons
Ian McEwan, a british writer, photographed during the 2011 Paris book festival. / | © Thesupermat/Wikicommons

Saturday

Set in Fitzrovia, London, on Saturday, February 15th 2003, Ian McEwan’s 2005 novel Saturday centers around a large demonstration against the United States’ 2003 invasion of Iraq. Protagonist 48-year-old Henry Perowne is a man whose mind is occupied with things other than world affairs. A minor traffic accident leads to a disturbing confrontation, and Henry is forced to use a strength he was not aware he possessed in order to protect the things that he loves. This is a moving story from the author of Atonement, acknowledging that no matter how it looks looks from the outside, many decisions are difficult to make.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Jonathan Safran Foer’s post-9/11 novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close concerns an intelligent nine-year-old boy named Oskar Schell and his experience with the traumatizing events of September 11, 2001. After losing his father to the attack on the World Trade Center, young Oskar struggles with insomnia, depression, and panic attacks. Clever and curious, Oskar finds himself going through his father’s closet, uncovering an envelope hidden away inside of a vase. The envelope, marked with the name “Black,” contains a small key. Thus begins Oskar’s touching journey to unlock his father’s last message. Published in 2005, Foer’s novel truly encapsulates the American stance on the collapse of the Twin Towers: forever gone, but never forgotten.

The original twin towers, c. 2000 | © Carol M. Highsmith/Wikipedia
The original twin towers, c. 2000 | © Carol M. Highsmith/Wikipedia