A tragic yet uplifting graphic novel about 9/11 that cuts through the politics and media sensationalism to deliver one powerful, very human story about those affected.
Writer/Artist: Alissa Torres and Sungyoon Choi
What They Say
On September 10, 2001, Eddie Torres started his dream job at Cantor Fitzgerald in the North Tower of the World Trade Center. The next morning, he said goodbye to his 7½-months-pregnant wife, Alissa, and headed out the door.
In an instant, Alissa's world was thrown into chaos. Forced to deal with unimaginable challenges, Alissa suddenly found herself cast into the role of "9/11 widow," tossed into a storm of bureaucracy, politics, patriotism, mourning, consolation, and, soon enough, motherhood.
Beautifully and thoughtfully illustrated, American Widow is the affecting account of one woman's journey through shock, pain, birth, and rebirth in the aftermath of a great tragedy. It is also the story of a young couple's love affair: how a Colombian immigrant and a strong-minded New Yorker met, fell in love, and struggled to fulfill their dreams. Above all, American Widow is a tribute to the resilience of the human heart and the very personal story of how one woman endured a very public tragedy.
American Widow is a hardcover graphic novel that's packaged simply to reflect its stark story. The jacket art is suitably plain and subtle: until you check the back cover, there's no real indication that the story involves the 9/11 attacks.
The folds of the jacket cover features a plot summary and quick blurbs about the author and artist, much like a regular book. Other than a few pages of acknowledgments, there is no bonus content.
The artwork for American Widow is its most compelling feature. Choi's seemingly simple black, white and green-shaded illustrations recapture the bleak purgatory we all drifted through after the attacks—and emphasises the separate, potent pain Torres felt in her own world.
Choi's characters emote so well on their own that it's almost unnecessary to read the text and discover who was a friend and who was an enemy; who genuinely wished to help Torres through her ordeal and who was just waiting for their shift to end.
American Widow leans towards quick, simple sentences which suits Torres' emotions as she tries to sort out affairs after the death of her husband. She wanders from page to page in a daze, incapable of mourning because she's occupied with slicing through a hydra of red tape. Occasionally, Torres recalls her most painful moments with words that cut quickly: in response to her friends and family accusing her of celebrating her husband's death because of the compensation money being doled out by charities, she writes, “It felt bad to be hated. It felt even worse to be envied.”
Alissa and Eddie Torres are a young recently-married couple starting their life together in New York. On the second day of Eddie's dream job in the North Tower of the World Trade Center, airplanes plunged into the huge buildings as one branch of the multi-tiered terrorist attacks against America on September 11 2001. Alissa, seven months pregnant, must deal with the media circus that hounds her and other “American Widows” in hopes of a ratings-boosting sob story. Alone, she delivers her son and tries to raise him while struggling for the support promised to her and other shattered families by Red Cross.
Reading American Widow stirs all kinds of emotions to the surface. None of us wants to actively think about losing our loved ones, especially not in a tragedy as huge as 9/11. But as we go about our daily lives that fear incubates in the back of our mind, waiting for a lull in our thoughts to confront us.
We want to feel pity for Alissa, but she won't allow it: she knows she has to piece the remains of her life together and move on, so we cheer for her instead despite many heart-breaking setbacks.
While Alissa fights against the apathy exhibited by the charities intended to help her, we slowly learn more about her Columbian husband, Eddie. Early on, Alissa reveals he jumped from the tower. Again, we think about what we would do in such a horrible situation: suffocate, burn, or jump? How did Eddie make his choice? Though Alissa never outright says, “This is what he was thinking,” towards the end of the novel she explores the reason her husband might have chosen to jump, and comes to peace with it.
American Widow as a whole is about coming to terms with tragedy and growing stronger by answering life's hardest questions on your own. When Alissa is forced to choose a headstone for Eddie, she thinks back to the time they chose counter-top samples together, death being the furthest thing from both their minds. Arranging your own funeral at a young age is practical, but instinctively avoided or obvious reasons.
On September 11 2002, Alissa firmly recalls her place in life: “Although I was so confused by who I was and how I was supposed to be, I knew so fiercely that I was alive, together with my son, and that it was a beautiful day.”