cover image After the Fall: New Yorkers Remember September 2001 and the Years That Followed

After the Fall: New Yorkers Remember September 2001 and the Years That Followed

Edited by Mary Marshall Clark, Peter Bearman, Catherine Ellis, and Stephen Drury Smith. New Press, $26.95 (288p) ISBN 978-1-59558-647-6

Every New Yorker has a story of the morning of September 11, and Columbia University’s Oral History Research Office has made an admirable effort to collect a wide sampling. The editors present accounts of the attacks and their aftermath, conveying diverse stories “as they unfolded in an extraordinary moment.” The most affecting stories in this diligent oral history convey the immediacy and horror of the scene around the World Trade Center towers. Accounts from paramedics wading into the inferno and office workers evacuated moments before the buildings’ collapse go deep into the essence of surviving amid chaos. “You hear this terrible roaring sound,” said ambulance driver James Dobson, “And all you hear are these explosions, and everything got black,” while the terrified passengers in his vehicle passed a respirator around to survive, breath by breath. Across the city, Muslim teacher Debbie Almontaser struggled to calm her fifth-grade pupils as terrified parents collected them one by one. As it became clear that the attackers were Muslim, she worried about wearing her headscarf and turned later to community outreach efforts as dozens of Arab men were detained, while her oldest son served in a National Guard unit sorting through body parts in the scorched rubble. The patchwork quality hints at the scale of confusion on September 11 itself, and the numberless ways in which those experiences rippled though the city, the nation, and the world. Ten years on, the power of these stories endures. (Sept.)