The NS Recommends: Novels for 9/11

Harbor (2004) Lorraine Adams
Adams, a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer for the Washington Post, conjures up the lives of Algerian immigrants in the US in her debut novel. Aziz, Ghazi and Mourad have terrible jobs and their phones are tapped by the FBI. As one of them is drawn into a terrorist plot, the complexity of Algerian politics gets lost in a narrative of Muslim terrorism.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2005) Jonathan Safran Foer
Oskar Schell is an earnest, precocious nine-year-old whose father died in the 9/11 attacks. His discovery of a key in a vase leads him to a manuscript containing his grandparents' testimony of their courtship and marriage - and the firebombing of Dresden. Oskar then embarks on a moving exploration of memory and history.

Saturday (2005) Ian McEwan
Set on 15 February 2003, the date of the march against the Iraq war, Saturday follows the movements of Henry Perowne, a liberal neurosurgeon, as he muses on the history behind the protest.

The Good Life (2006) Jay McInerney
In this sequel to Brightness Falls (1992), McInerney's cast of literary New Yorkers goes through the same round of dinner parties, drug habits, novels and affairs a decade later - until they get caught up in the terrorist attacks. A typically fine social comedy punctured by tragedy.

The Emperor's Children (2006) Claire Messud
A group of spoiled thirtysomethings living in Manhattan is disturbed by the arrival of a provincial cousin, as time advances inexorably towards the attacks of 11 September 2001. Messud dramatises how the ideals and pleasures of US liberals were shocked by the events of the new decade.

Falling Man (2007) Don DeLillo
Don DeLillo's short, concentrated novel focuses on a couple - both survivors of the attacks - and their middle-class friends and families. They struggle with the trauma of the events as a performance artist goes around New York re-enacting the deaths of those who jumped from the twin towers: just one of the memories of that day which saturate this story.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2007) Mohsin Hamid
Changez, a Princeton graduate with a seemingly successful life - a job on Wall Street and a beautiful girlfriend - tells his story to a mysterious American on a return trip to his native Lahore. He explains how, in the heightened atmosphere of Islamophobia in the months after 9/11, he gradually turned into a radical. Hamid's narrative examines how identity can be disturbed by historical events.

Netherland (2008) Joseph O'Neill
Highly acclaimed on its publication, Netherland concerns Hans, a Dutch-born financial analyst who is adrift in New York. He befriends the Trinidadian entrepreneur Chuck Ramkissoon, with whom he plays cricket. The sport is a kind of salvation as Hans's marriage flounders and he struggles to understand the course of his life in a city recently unsettled by terrorism.

Next (2010) James Hynes
Next
, like McEwan's Saturday, takes place during the course of one day. The narrator, Kevin Quinn, is an ageing academic from Ann Arbor, Michigan, killing time in Austin, Texas, before a job interview. Dissatisfied and nostalgic, he finds his life interrupted by an unimaginable event.

Open City (2011) Teju Cole
Julius, a psychologist-in-training and of mixed German and Nigerian descent, is a stranger to New York. In eloquent, philosophical prose, he describes his wanderings, reflecting on the city while recovering from a break-up. Cole's novel is a meditation on how, after the attacks, everyone is displaced.

The Submission (2011) Amy Waldman
A design competition for a 9/11 memorial causes controversy when it is won by an American Muslim architect, in a story that mirrors the hysteria surrounding the "Ground Zero Mosque". Waldman depicts the lives of a range of characters touched by the attacks and dramatises the conflict over the legacy of 9/11 as it reverberates through US society.

This article first appeared in 9/11

2011-09-05