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Thread: French books inspired by 9/11

  1. #1

    Default French books inspired by 9/11

    September 3, 2003
    French Feel the Anguish in Books Inspired by 9/11

    PARIS, Sept. 2 — Whether French writers love or hate the American government of the day, their fascination with the United States never seems to waver. And this is again apparent as France enters its principal book publishing season, known here as "la rentrée littéraire." This fall, five authors have chosen the events of Sept. 11, 2001, as a way to explore the American way of life and to write about themselves.

    A handful of books among the 1,285 new titles being published here this month hardly represent a trend, but the World Trade Center theme has caught the eye of newspaper and magazine literary editors, whose job it is to decide which new books merit attention. And one novel, Frédéric Beigbeder's "Windows on the World" (the title is in English), has already been singled out as a contender for this year's prestigious Goncourt Prize.

    These books fit into no single category. There are two novels, one polemical nonfiction book, one book for young readers and one autobiographic comic-strip book. There are also several new books that use the terrorist attacks as a point of departure for political analysis. They demonstrate the perception here that 9/11 was a watershed, not only for the United States but also for France.

    Mr. Beigbeder's book is perhaps the most daring. He puts himself in the place of Carthew Yorston, a divorced real estate agent from Texas, who on the morning of Sept. 11 is breakfasting with his two young sons in Windows on the World, the restaurant on the 107th floor of the north tower of the World Trade Center. Each minute between 8:30 a.m. and 10:29 a.m. that day is recorded in a separate short chapter.

    When the north tower is struck by American Airlines Flight 11 at 8:46 a.m., Yorston reports as the narrator, the building swings "like a metronome," and plates and tables go flying, before the restaurant is filled with acrid smoke. He tries to reassure the boys that it is a simulated accident to test security procedures, but they soon see through the ruse. As panic spreads and the heat become unbearable, Yorston and his sons prepare to die.

    Yet for all that, Mr. Beigbeder has not written a movie-style action story. While Yorston is given ample time to reflect on the vagaries of his life, every other chapter is written in the voice of the author, who frequently writes his thoughts while breakfasting at Ciel de Paris, the 56th-floor restaurant in the Tour Montparnasse, the tallest building in Paris. In many ways the author is more present in this 371-page book than his fictional narrator.

    Mr. Beigbeder, who became something of a Left Bank celebrity with his previous book, "99 Francs," uses the occasion to muse on his upbringing, his broken marriage, his high-profile career and his obsession with fame, but he also proclaims his devotion to the United States. "I write this book because I am sick of French anti-Americanism," he notes early on, before listing his favorite American writers, musicians and movie directors and recalling his American-born grandmother.

    In an interview with Elle magazine, though, he gave another reason for choosing this subject. "In the face of American self-censorship, I wanted to give form to this tragedy," he said, adding that American television viewers saw "an asceptic, almost clinical" version of events. He said he wanted "to reinject colors, smells, noises, to reintroduce the human dimension that has been carefully removed," adding, "A novel should enter forbidden territory."

    Another 9/11 novel, "The Day I Returned to Earth" by Didier Goupil, also dwells on the human side of the drama, but his protagonist is a different kind of victim. The unnamed man, who is arriving for work in the north tower at 8:46 a.m. on Sept. 11, survives the terrorist attack but is unbalanced by the experience. Instead of returning home, he wanders the devastated streets of downtown Manhattan and becomes a vagrant, living off garbage cans and rainwater.

    The narrative is interspersed with observations about the response of President Bush to the attack — "He would like to have passed for the Messiah" — and ruminations about a consumer society that creates what Mr. Goupil calls a "Great Tower of Gold" in its image. The homeless protagonist finally "returns to earth" when he meets a woman, another survivor, who has also chosen to sleep in the street because she, too, no longer believes that normality is possible.

    Luc Lang has said that he was inspired to write "11 September, Mon Amour" — the title is adapted from Marguerite Duras's "Hiroshima, Mon Amour" — when he found himself on an Indian reservation in Montana on the morning of the attacks. He had gone there to do research, but, he told the French weekly Le Nouvel Observateur, "the subject that had obsessed me vanished in face of the magnitude of the catastrophe."

    He opens his book with a chapter called "The Voices," which recalls the desperate telephone calls of people trapped in the two towers, and somewhat bizarrely he lists all the victims whose names begin with L. But Mr. Lang then veers off in an extended diatribe against abuses of American power, from the early treatment of Indian tribes through Afghan civilians, even throwing in a parallel between the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Colonel Custer.

    In "Nine Eleven," which is designed for young readers, Jean-Jacques Grief uses reminiscences of students of Stuyvesant High School and P.S. 234 to provide a slightly fictionalized account of how these young New Yorkers responded to an unimaginable disaster occurring just a few hundred yards from their classroom. In the story one of the students has left to make a delivery to the World Trade Center when the attacks begin.

    Henrik Rehr's home was also close to the World Trade Center. And in "Mardi 11 September" ("Tuesday, Sept. 11" ), he uses a comic-strip format to relive his own experience. When the disaster struck, his wife had just left home to take their small son to school. He is terrified when he cannot find his wife at her job, and it is hours before he is certain that she and Dylan are safe. In the meantime, through flashbacks, he recalls their life together.

    Sept. 11 is also present in "Ville Panique" ("Panic City" ) by Paul Virilio, a student of man-made disasters who here identifies a new threat, the suicide terrorist who acts without declaration of war, without a flag, without a name and without a genuine battle. Then there is "Allah Superstar" by a young Algerian immigrant to France who uses only the initials, Y. B. His novel is set against a background of a growing confrontation between the West and Islam.

    While these books reflect at best mixed feelings about the United States, however, Yves Berger, a 69-year-old publisher and veteran traveler in the United States, has done something quite different in his "Loving Dictionary of America." With 59 entries presented in alphabetical order (some letters have several entries, a few have none), he goes from Audubon, Eastwood and Greyhound to Monroe, Presidents and Vikings.

    One entry is devoted to "Le Rêve Americain" ("The American Dream" ). It is also Mr. Berger's dream. He remembers being a 10-year-old in 1944 when American troops liberated France. And he remembers, long before he made the United States his second spiritual home, discovering the works of Mark Twain, Jack London and James Fenimore Cooper. "This American dream," he told Le Monde, "is certainly the central fact in my life."

    Frédéric Beigbeder, the author of the French novel "Windows on the World."

    Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

    (Edited by Fabb at 3:51 am on Sep. 3, 2003)

  2. #2

    Default French books inspired by 9.11

    Another 9/11 novel, "The Day I Returned to Earth" by Didier Goupil, also dwells on the human side of the drama, but his protagonist is a different kind of victim. The unnamed man, who is arriving for work in the north tower at 8:46 a.m. on Sept. 11, survives the terrorist attack but is unbalanced by the experience. Instead of returning home, he wanders the devastated streets of downtown Manhattan and becomes a vagrant, living off garbage cans and rainwater.
    That brings back memories. I refused to leave the area that day. My family thought I was unbalanced.

  3. #3

    Default French books inspired by 9.11

    I wonder how the one guy wrote about what it was like in Windows of the World. No one really knows what it was like since nobody from up there made it

  4. #4
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    New York City

    Default French books inspired by 9.11

    Cell phone conversations.

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