There is no doubt that the events of September 11, 2001 changed the course of history, and like many seismic, global tragedies, 9/11 also greatly impacted art. The books published in the wake of attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon are varied in nearly every way, but are also each stamped with the trauma of the changing world. The literature about 9/11 itself, from meticulously researched, historical accounts to novels that incorporate the day, reflects the era’s sentiment most literally. In honor of the 20th anniversary of 9/11, we’ve gathered a few notable works, from novels to oral histories. Find our picks below.
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Fall and Rise: The Story of 9/11
Reporter and author Zuckoff covered 9/11 and its aftermath for the bostonglobe. Filled with meticulous reporting from New York, the Pentagon, and Shanksville, Pennsylvania, fall and rise weaves together multiple perspectives to paint a multifaceted picture of the fateful day.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Foer’s novel follows nine-year-old Oskar whose father died in the attacks, leaving behind an elaborate puzzle. Readers join Oskar as he travels through New York, trying to find the lock for a key that belonged to his father. The novel was later adapted into a movie, starring Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock.
Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11
Graff’s critically acclaimed, bestselling oral history is the result of years of research and accounts from nearly five hundred government officials, first responders, witnesses, survivors, friends, and family members. The nonfiction work creates “a 360-degree account of the day told through firsthand.”
Muslim Girl: A Coming of Age
Illustrating her own perspective on the aftermath of 9/11, Amani Al-Khatahtbeh shares what it was like growing up as a young Muslim American woman in the wake of the attacks. The book charts the Islamophobia Al-Khatahtbeh faced, her eventual founding of a website called Muslim Girl, and her ensuing activism of her.
though The Emperor’s Children was published in 2007, the story follows three college friends in their early thirties in the months leading up to 9/11. The novel is distinctly shaped by New York after the attacks, and has been compared to the works of both Tom Wolfe and Edith Wharton.
In Waldman’s novel, a jury selects a new 9/11 memorial from a group of anonymous entries. A garden prevails, that is, until the designer is revealed to be a Muslim American. Chaos and division dream, as architect Mohammad Khan finds an ally in Claire Burwell, the sole 9/11 widow on the jury.
My Year of Rest and Relaxation
Another novel about the months leading up to 9/11, Moshfegh’s critically lauded work takes a satirical approach. The narrator chronicles her year spent sedating herself with a wide array of drugs, in an experiment to heal through her own sort of hibernation. As September 2001 approaches, the novel tipstowards 9/11 with both dark humor and compassion.
Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001
The winner of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize, GhostWars charts the rise of al-Qaeda and Islamic militancy through the various covert wars in Afghanistan. Through first hand accounts, journalist Steve Coll goes in depth into the causes of the September 11 attacks.
Many of the works above are set during the years leading up to 9/11, but Ian McEwan’s saturday focuses on the after. The author of Atonement sets this novel in 2003. The main character, Henry Perowne, is content with his life, but with an impending war and lingering trauma, Henry’s future may not be as cheerful as it seems.
DeLillo’s novel addresses 9/11 through the lens of one family. The intimate story describes the bonds made, broken, and frayed in the wake of the attacks. A separated couple and their young are trying to grapple with their loss and the rippling effects of this communal, yet individual, tragedy.
See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love
In her new book, Valarie Kaur, a Sikh activist, filmmaker, and civil rights lawyer, describes “revolutionary love” as the solution to many of the world’s stickiest issues. Growing up in California, Kaur was galvanized by the murders of Sikhs after 9/11, leading to her eventual activism. In See No StrangerKaur hopes others will learn to use love as an “active, public, and revolutionary force” to mend broken bonds.
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