Novels and 9/11

Pankaj Mishra reviews Don DeLillo’s new novel, Falling Man for the Guardian, placing it into the context of post 9/11 fiction by British and American novelists like Ken Kalfus, Deborah Eisenberg, Mohsin Hamid, Kiran Desai, among many others.

Reflecting on the attacks on the twin towers in 2001, Don DeLillo seemed to speak for many Americans when he admitted that “We like to think that America invented the future. We are comfortable with the future, intimate with it. But there are disturbances now, in large and small ways, a chain of reconsiderations.” On September 11, terrorists from the Middle East who destroyed American immunity to large-scale violence and chaos also forced many American and British novelists to reconsider the value of their work and its relation to the history of the present. (…) Amis went on to claim that “after a couple of hours at their desks, on September 12 2001, all the writers on earth were reluctantly considering a change of occupation.” This is, of course, an exaggeration. Many writers had intuited that religious and political extremism, which had ravaged large parts of the world, would eventually be unleashed upon the west’s rich, more protected societies.

The shock of the attacks was probably greater for writers who had been ensconced deep in what DeLillo in his new novel Falling Man calls the “narcissistic heart of the west”.

Mishra also quotes from one of my favorite essays by Orhan Pamuk, the piece “The Anger of the Damned,” which appeared in the New York Review of Books in November 2001.