Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Book Review: 'The Day the World Came to Town' by Jim DeFede

✰✰✰✰✰ When U.S. airspace was closed due to the events of September 11, 2001, pilots were diverted elsewhere. Thirty-eight jetliners were forced to land in the small town of Gander, Newfoundland Canada. Many of the passengers had no idea where they were.

Gander had seen better days, but the community rallied together, and the townspeople didn’t hesitate to help. Gander responded with everything they had: food, towels, clothes, rides, and hugs. Many even welcomed the displaced passengers into their own homes to take showers or just have some quiet time. This is the extraordinary true story of the generosity of complete strangers and the lasting friendships they forged during a trying time in American history.

The Bottom Line: This quick, inspirational read highlights a lesser known story of the events of 9/11. The lengths Gander and surrounding communities went to in order to make the displaced passengers feel welcome is both memorable and heartwarming. This tale of the kindness of strangers is proof that there is still good in the world. Highly recommended for readers of history and nonfiction.

Book Club Notes: This was by far our most highly rated book of the year. Book Club members gave it an average of 4.75 stars. We appreciated that the book was written in small sections. Through the book, we were allowed to see a different side of humanity. The actions of the people in Newfoundland were filled with compassion and caring. This book is enlightening and inspirational. All too often we hear about all the bad in the world; however, this book highlights what is good. Highly recommended for book clubs. Also, highly recommended for high schools and colleges. 

Since I could not find a reading guide or list of book club discussion questions, I created the following sets of questions: 

The Day of the Attack: 
  • Do you remember where you were when you first heard about the terrorist acts on 9/11? What were your initial reactions? How did these reactions change as the day want on? How was it different for us living in the Midwest compared to people living closer to the attacks?
  •  Were you watching TV that day? What role did the media play in the way viewers reacted to the attacks? At the time, what were some of the images that made an impression on you?
  •  When Mineta ordered the planes down, “…the US was effectively passing the potential threat posed by these planes onto” Canada…Despite the risk, Canada didn’t hesitate. 6 Discuss. Do you think this was fair?
  • On P. 19, DeFede talks about Captain Knoth. As he waited for instruction, he wondered about the people on his plane. How would you have felt as a pilot or flight attendant? What would you have told your passengers? How would you have felt as a passenger?
  • On p. 61, DeFede writes about one of the passengers studying her fellow passengers and wondering: What does a terrorist look like? She didn’t know. Think about the word “terrorist” for a moment. What images/stereotypes come to mind? Where do these stereotypes come from? How do we break down these stereotypes? 
Gander: 
  • Has anyone visited Gander?
  • Discuss the culture of Gander. How does it differ from yours? Is anyone from a small town?
  • Discuss the importance of Gander in getting the planes down quickly & safely.
  • Are there any stories that stood out? Please share specific quotes or passages.
  • Some passengers craved news, others wanted to avoid it. Discuss.
  • Would you invite strangers into your home? Why or why not?
  • Discuss the Screeching-In ceremony in Chapter 17. Does your family or hometown have special celebrations? If so, tell us about them.
  • After all the passengers left, the people of Gander turned down a party. Why? How do you think the people of Gander felt after everything was over? Discuss the Newfie way. (Chap. 19) 
Returning Home: 
  • Everyone has a different way of coping with stress. When it came time to get back on the planes, “…there was genuine fear among the flight crews,…” 173 Consider the events of 9/11 & imagine having to get back on a plane. How would you have felt? How would you have handled it?
  • In Chapter 15 when the Lopers discover that their flight is not going back to the U.S. as planned, but returning to Germany, they decide to drive. They had to figure out their own way home. What would you have done?
  • The chairman of Hugo Boss, Baldessarini could have gone home on a private jet. Instead he returned with his fellow passengers. He said,”… flying home while the others were left behind would have been an act of betrayal of everything that had happened over the last 72 hours. He would go when the others went…He was in this until the end.” 194 Discuss his reasoning. What would you have done?
  • Do you feel differently after these events when you fly? Do you still fly? Do you feel safe? 
The Legacy of 9/11: 
  • Discuss some of the other stories from 9/11.
  • How did life in America change after 9/11? Who was most affected by these changes?
  • Did the story make you question any of your own beliefs?
  • How did the events of September 11 bring out both the “worst” & the “best” in people?
  • Have the events of 9/11 changed your daily lives in a positive way? In a negative way?
  • What is the legacy of 9/11? What does it mean to live in a post-9/11 world?
  • Would you change any of the policies or laws that have been put in place since 9/11? 
About the author & the book: 
  • Why did the author open the book the way he did? (the adoption story) 
  • Is the author’s background reflected in the book? Discuss the writing style. This was the author’s first book. Was the writing accessible to readers at large? 
  • What is original about this book? How is it different from other books? 
  • What was the author’s attitude towards his subject. How do you think the author was changed by the experience of writing the book. 
  • What did you think about the title of the book? Why was it titled that way? Can you think of an alternative title? 
  • What’s the overall message the author is trying to convey? 
Wrap-up: 
  • For the person who chose the book, why did you select it? 
  • Did you know anything about this event prior to reading this book? 
  • What preconceived notions did you have about 9/11 before reading this book? Did these change after reading the book? 
  • Did you learn something new? If so, what was it? If not, how did the author fail? 
  • Did you learn anything new about yourself as you read the book? Please share. 
  • Do the issues raised in this book affect your life now? In the future? How so? 
  • Did this book broaden your perspective of the world? In what way? 
  • Has reading this book changed your opinion of person or events? 
  • FYI – There is a Broadway musical called “Come From Away.” Do you think it would make a good movie? Who would you pick to direct & star in it? 
  • Rate the book from 1 – 5. What are the book’s strengths and weaknesses? Would you recommend this book to readers who don’t read nonfiction? Why? 

Details: The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander Newfoundland by Jim DeFede. Paperback published by William Morrow in 2002. 244 p. ISBN: 978-0-06-055971-7

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