The events of September 11 have seemingly been covered, analyzed, and discussed from every angle imaginable. So the subject matter alone of Jim DeFede’s The Day the World Came to Town makes it noteworthy. In the immediate aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, 38 commercial airliners carrying over 6,000 passengers were forced, as a precautionary measure, to land in Gander, Newfoundland, Canada. Due to the ongoing closure of U.S. airspace, the passengers spent four days in this isolated town of 10,000 before being allowed to continue on their way. In that time, Gander’s residents rallied together to extend a kind of hospitality that seems too expansive for the word hospitality. Townspeople not only opened schools and legion halls for use as emergency shelters, they invited the passengers into their homes for showers, meals, and warm beds while local businesses simply gave toiletries and clothing to passengers stuck without luggage. Despite the grim consequences that led to the situation, DeFede finds humor: two flight attendants are offered a car for sightseeing by a local woman who happened to be driving by; the stranded chairman of Hugo Boss finds himself shopping for men’s underwear at the local Wal-Mart. But the real message of the book is how, even in times of great turmoil and conflict, people can and must look to one another for comfort, help, and hope. –John Moe
“They placed their lives on hold for a group of strangers and asked for nothing in return. They affirmed the basic goodness of man at a time when it was easy to doubt such humanity still existed. If the terrorists had hoped their attacks would reveal the weaknesses in western society, the events in Gander proved its strength.”
I chose to listen to “The Day the World Came to Town” because I thought it about time I educate myself a little more about the events of 9/11 in more detail. It’s now been almost 19 years since the September 11 attacks and in that time, I can’t say I’ve read much on the subject beyond the main facts.
“The Day the World Came to Town” focuses on the other planes that were in the air when American airspace was closed, told to return to their destinations or divert to a couple of nominated places. One of those places was Gander, Newfoundland, where 28 international flights eventually landed. That meant that there were over 6,000 passengers, crew and animals (!) stranded in a place that they had no intention of being in. There was a plane of British tourists heading to Disneyland, a couple returning home with their newly adopted daughter, a New York policeman feeling helpless while his city was in shock and many other passengers each with their own stories.
To consider this as a book, I would say that some of the content was a little repetitive and it felt choppy at times. As an audiobook, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the narrator’s voice and at times it did feel like I was listening to one of those videos you see playing on a loop in a museum. But I don’t think either of these things really took away from my enjoyment of this book. In general, I really relished learning about these events and found the majority of the content to be really interesting, especially as this wasn’t a part of the history that I had ever really considered.
Overall rating: “The Day the World Came to Town” was a really interesting book which exceeded my expectations. I really enjoyed hearing about the kindness and generosity of the people of Gander who unexpectedly found themselves as hosts to thousands of people. A strong 4 star read for me!