Friday, 9 September 2011

That Day In September - Artie Van Why

As it’s the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attack this Sunday, I have a review of a special book, ‘That Day in September’, by Artie Van Why, to mark the occasion.

On the 11th September 2001 two planes were flown into the Twin Towers in New York as part of a terrorist attack, which killed 2996 people and injured (physically and psychologically) many more. It was the day that changed the world.

I’m sure we all remember seeing the awful images which played out across our screens on that fateful day. The world watched in horror as innocent people lost their lives as a result of a minority group’s extremist views. Most of us can probably remember where we were and what we were doing when we heard the news, and it has stuck with us ever since. Artie Van Why certainly can – he was working in a building opposite one of the World Trade Centres when the first plane struck, and this is his story.

Artie left his building shortly after the first plane struck and headed out into the devastation. He stood amongst falling debris, watched helplessly as people fell to their deaths, and saw the second plane strike the other building. Amidst his fear, he attempted to give help to others where he could, but luckily he was unharmed throughout the whole experience. However, he has lived with what he saw every day since, and now that he has decided to put his story down in writing, he has been able to give those of us who weren’t there a glimpse of what it must have been like. His words are shocking, deeply saddening, inspirational, but most of all an incredible tribute to everyone who was there that day, and to everyone who lost their lives.

I was only nine when the attack happened, so don’t remember the moment I heard about it (probably because at the time I didn’t properly understand what it meant), but I remember sitting watching the pictures on TV later that evening, and over the following weeks and months. I’ve also seen loads of those documentaries and programmes which contain footage from the scene, and the one thing I have always found the hardest to watch, right from that first evening, are the pictures of people who felt they had no choice but to jump from the buildings, knowing full well that either way they were going to die. For me those pictures are the worst. That’s why, when I read that Artie watched some of those people, from right up close, my heart really went out to him as I can’t even begin to imagine what it must have actually felt like. That fear, that helplessness.

That’s the thing that comes across a lot throughout this account, is the complete dread and inability to anything that everyone there felt. This is an amazing first-hand account of what really happened, and although it’s the closest I’ll ever come to knowing what it was like, I’m sure it only scratches the surface.  Nevertheless, it is a heart-wrenching tale filled with emotion, right from the first page until the very last.

My mum always says I have an incredible ability to let upsetting things wash over me, and although I don’t see it as being ‘incredible’ (I just see it as being me), I am aware of the fact that I don’t let things bother me if they have any negative emotion attached to them. Don’t ask me how, that’s just what I do. I’m certainly not one for showing any sort of emotion – positive or negative – when I’m reading. However, the first page of ‘That Day In September’ had my eyes welling up, and from there it just went downhill! There were many times throughout the course of this memoir that I found the words blurring as I cried. I don’t know whether it was just the upsetting subject matter, the ‘realness’ of the first-hand account, or the emotional writing style which got me going, but either way I found this to be a deeply moving story.

Despite this, not all the emotions were negative. At several points I was astonished at the courage and selflessness that people there showed, Artie included. They had no reason to help anyone but themselves – the natural instinct would have been to run as far and as fast as a means of survival – but yet Mr. Van Why stopped to help a complete stranger. As I’m sure many survivors do, I think Artie feels he could have and should have done more to help or save others, but from what I read he already showed more courage and helpfulness than I could ever have done.

Furthermore, to be faced with so much death and destruction has turned many people away from religion, saying that if there was a God, He would never have let such an awful thing happen. Even people who were never there have lost their faith over the events they saw unfold. However, I find Artie inspirational and a breath of fresh air as he said the following: “You know, I don’t believe I had witnessed the wrath of anyone’s God that morning. What I had been a witness to when I looked up at those burning towers was the ultimate evil that man is capable of.” I find this quotation so deeply saddening that man can be capable of such atrocities, but at the same time refreshing to know that he doesn’t hold anyone accountable, doesn’t blame anyone, but those few, sick people whose idea it was.

This story is very short, as I devoured it in just half an hour – it was interesting, gripping and compelling. I found that the author didn’t go into huge amounts of detail or description, but this honestly didn’t bother me at all. I imagine that the scenes were so horrific that any survivors would have difficulty remembering the events in any great detail, as their minds must just have blocked everything out, so I was glad to read of exactly what Artie could remember. In addition, the story is so emotional and moving that if there had been any greater detail or description, it would have just been too hard to read. This may be a short book, but it was enough. I could put it away once I’d finished reading and move onto other things: the people who experienced it first-hand never can, and are living with it every day of their lives.

Needless to say, this book contains some very upsetting and sensitive subject matter, so may not be suitable for younger audiences. As I said, I’m a bit of a tough nut to crack, but even I cried at this, so please be aware of this if you have a more fragile disposition.

If you can spare just a small amount of your day to read this, I would recommend it. Whether you want to read a personal memoir, pay tribute to everyone who lost their lives, or simply gain a greater understanding of what it was like for those on the ground on the day, this book is worth it every time. I’m pleased that Mr. Van Why decided to pen his memories, as he has put down on paper his part in one of the biggest events in living history, which will help the future generations to learn about what happened, and hopefully it will keep the memories alive of all the people who lost their lives.

This is the type of event that only the people who were actually there will ever truly know what it felt like, but I feel like this story has certainly opened my eyes to what really happened and the consequences. I saw the pictures from afar, but now I see the personal side.

My deepest thanks to Mr. Van Why for sending me a copy to review. :)

A paperback version is currently available on Amazon for £5.62, or Kindle copies can be bought for £4.30 each. The author says that for him, this is not about making money, but rather it is about his story being told.

The BBC wrote a piece on the author earlier this month, which includes a small amount of what is covered in his book, as well as pictures and an audio clip of the man himself. Highly recommended extra reading!

Summary: A deeply moving, very personal account of a first-hand experience of 9/11
Rating: It feels crude to give this sort of book a rating, as it’s not about that, it’s about a man getting his story out. Nevertheless, if I had to, I’d have to give it the highest rating of 5/5 for the courage that he showed, and the very moving tale.

In memory of all 2996 people who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks of 11th September 2001. xXx


  1. Read your review, you might want to correct the date of the 9/11 attack at the end of the piece. As for your review, well sounds like this book very much impressed you about that day and how it has changed so much of our world.

  2. Oops! Thank you for pointing that out. I must have got mixed up - that's what comes from being 'over the pond', where the dates are the other way round, and 9/11 normally means the 9th November! All changed now though :)

    And yes you are right - it had a real impact on me and I won't be forgetting it in a hurry.

    Thank you for popping by! :)


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