Thursday, January 20, 2011

American Widow - Alissa Torres


I sometimes have to ask "why do I do this to myself?" I have this compulsion to read books and see movies about 9/11. Am I a glutton for punishment? Does it help me find closure? I didn't even lose anyone in the tragedy, but I still lost a piece of my heart that day. Each year I mourn, and with every novel, I cry and my stomach hurts. Still I persist.

So up went my antennae when Carrie from Books and Movies reviewed "American Widow" by Alissa Torres. I felt like I owed it to Alissa Torres to read her story.

Synopsis: Alissa and Eddie met at a New York dance club, under the shadow of the Twin Towers, fell in love, and got married. Eddie was an example of the American Dream...born and raised in Colombia, moved to the US and worked his way up the corporate ladder. Then he lost his job, and was hired by Cantor Fitzgerald, whose offices were in the North Tower of the World Trade Center. His first day of work was September 10, 2001.

Seven months pregnant, Alissa is forced to endure a mountain of paperwork, bureaucratic red tape, and uncooperative "assistance", all while silently grieving for her husband. She is plagued with images of her husband jumping (which the authorities believe he did), of the fight they had the night before he died, of her attempt to provide for herself and her infant son. She is bewildered by the animosity and anger directed towards her because of the monetary help she seeks.

But Alissa is nothing if not strong, and she forges through the muck, fights her fight, and comes out the other side ready to tell her story and her husband's story. Despite my typical stomach ache, it is a story of survival and hope.

My thoughts: Another graphic novel hits the bullseye. Between Torres' candid recall of her loneliness, grief and frustration after her husband's death, to Sungyoon Choi's expressive and emotional illustrations, you have nearly walked in Torres' shoes. My heart goes out to Torres, and wished I could introduce her to the Cantor Fitzgerald widows who wrote "Love You, Mean It", another amazing story of resiliance.

There was one thing that confused me about the story (and in hindsight, I think Carrie mentioned this too) was that Alissa was angry at her husband about something on the evening of September 10, 2001 and the morning after when he left for work. She never tells us why, and I suppose it is none of our business. Maybe it was something trivial, and the bigger point was that she was never able to resolve her differences with him. But in the process of the story, it felt like it was a small missing piece.

Generally, I like to include an illustration or two of graphic novels I review, but I found this feature on Torres and her novel, and thought it was better than any one frame I could show you:







4 out of 5 stars





18 comments:

farmlanebooks said...

I don't know why, but I'm the opposite to you. I avoid books about 9/11. The only ones I've read are ones which I didn't realise contained mentions of it. I guess this is because I feel I know what happened and can only gain more hearkbreak by reading about it. It is strange because I don't mind reading about other stories of human suffering...

JoAnn said...

Like Jackie, I mostly avoid books about 9/11... but I'm going to add this to my list. Thanks, Sandy.

Julie P. said...

I don't know if I could read this one. Even this many years later, it's still so painful. So many people lost loved ones.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I too tend to gravitate to books about 9/11. I know what you mean about missing pieces even when they aren't critical. I tend to focus on them and it kind of ruins the book for me!

Jenny said...

I'm like you... I am always reading books about 9/11. I've been wanting to read this one. Glad to see a great review of it!

bermudaonion said...

I think we're drawn to book like that because we're hoping to find some reason for all the suffering, which I guess is really closure. This book sounds painfully amazing, if that makes sense.

Nicole (Linus's Blanket) said...

I'm glad that it seems like she took the time that she needed to grieve and is building the life that she wants regardless of what others think she should be doing.

That argument and the topic probably would have implanted itself in my brain as well, though you are absolutely right. It's not our business and probably doesn't matter so much as the fact that it was left unresolved.

Zibilee said...

Oh my, this sounds like such a raw and powerful read. I haven't read many graphic novels, but I know that this one would be really moving, and I can't imagine how bad Torres felt having lost her husband after having a huge argument with him. Very sad.

Melissa M said...

I don't think I've ever read anything about 9/11. I wasn't avoiding it, but just hadn't come across anything that caught my eye either. Sounds interesting, and I can understand Torres feeling of not having closure after the fight with her husband. I chose not to fight with Brian on the day of his accident, and am forever grateful that we didn't have our last words be harsh ones.

caite said...

I think looking for a "reason" what happened that day happened is a fruitless search.
I know someone that was killed that day...I know someone who was there and escaped. I had been in those buildings many time, countless time in the train station under it...and I must say I have no desire, none it all, to read about it.

Hey, but glad you liked it!
But then, I don't like reading about WWII or Vietnam either. In fact, I don't like any upsetting non-fiction. I prefer my death and murder to be fiction.

heidenkind said...

I also avoid books about 9/11... and this looks like a particularly depressing one.

Meg said...

I find myself pulled to novels about 9/11, too -- starting with Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. That one had me sobbing in a street. I don't know what the compulsion is -- generally, I stay away from books I know are going to be incredibly sad -- but still... they find me.

Sounds like a moving story and, like Maus, that the graphic novel format increases the emotional impact.

Carrie K. said...

It is an amazing story - heart-breaking and intense. Not an easy book to read, but I'm glad I did.

Jenners said...

Oh God. This sounds just heartbreaking. I imagine she might torture herself forever over that argument. (But it does seem odd not to share its content.) And to have it be his FIRST DAY??? (Not that it makes a difference how long you worked there but ... I guess it is that you were so close to NOT working there.) Ack. I feel like you though ... I feel compelled to read these stories and see the movies and I will probably read this one at some point too.

Ti said...

A graphic novel doesn't seem like the right format for a story like this.

The memory of 9/11 leaves me with shivers. I cannot imagine what those poor folks went through and what their loved ones felt when it happened. Putting it down on paper, revisiting that day would be so hard to do.

C.B. James said...

I don't understand avoiding books about heavy topics. I don't see how reading about something can be so upsetting that you'd flee from the experience.

A book that makes you cry is by definition a good book, just like one that makes you laugh is. How can you hide from one half of the human experience?

It's basically a package deal.

Take the whole package or you'll end up a game-show host.

Once The TBR Dare is done, I'm going to do some serious looking at graphic novels. There are many excellent ones out there that I need to give a go. This one looks like one I'll be looking at.

Kathleen said...

I seem to torture myself and my emotions with these books about 9/11. This sounds like a read that would have me in tears but I will add it to my list. I'm on the lookout for good graphic novels.

Alice Teh said...

I haven't read any 9/11 books but I do understand the part of torturing yourself reading books like these. I do that to myself all the time and I wondered why on all those occasions.