Artie Van Why lived in New York for over twenty-five years and was working in his office’s building across from the World Trade Centre when the first plane struck the towers on September 11th, 2001. That Day In September is his account of the tragedy and of the way the residents of New York coped with the event, the immediate aftermath and the long process of rebuilding lives.
It’s hard to believe that today marks the tenth anniversary of September 11th. The horrors of the tragedy still seem so fresh in people’s minds. The world has changed greatly due to the events of that day, with the repercussions stretching far beyond New York’s city limits. For those who were there, however, those who experienced the scenes of terror and destruction at first hand, the changes and consequences were much more personal in nature.
Artie Van Why was one such witness and That Day In September is an honest, powerful work relating his experiences on that fatal date. The book opens with the personal path that led him to New York, allowing the reader to learn a little about the man behind the account. Then, the tragedy itself is described. Van Why manages to sketch the horror of the events he witnessed without the scenes he depicts ever feeling gratuitous. As an author, he is very respectful of those who died, of those who lost loved ones and of the many people who reached out to offer help and comfort to those who needed it.
That Day In September also deals with the aftermath of the tragedy – both in a personal sense and in a broader one. It speaks of the way the citizens of New York supported each other through the subsequent days and weeks and of Van Why’s own struggle to come to terms with the event. Throughout, however, there is an emphasis on the good that can be found in humanity, something that cannot be underestimated in a book dealing with such a collection of evil and incomprehensible deeds.
The language of That Day In September is not particularly elegant, and the grammar in the book could have been more refined. However, while this often detracts from my enjoyment of a book, in this case I found that the opposite was true. Van Why’s writing style gives a real immediacy to his account. It somehow feels more raw, more emotional, to read about the events of that day in language that is not made impersonal through too much attention to form and style. I was on the brink of tears for much of the time it took me to read this – a sign that any flaws in the writing do little to diminish the power of the piece.
That Day In September was not an easy book to read, but I am very glad I did so nonetheless. As an Australian, I have only been affected by September 11th in a peripheral fashion, and it was good to be able to read a personal and first-hand account of the events I witnessed on television. Horrific events of this scale can all too easily become about numbers rather than individuals. But Van Why’s story is just one of so many – and I thank him for sharing it.
(I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.)