Audiobook Review: The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland by Jim DeFede

When 38 jetliners bound for the United States were forced to land at Gander International Airport in Canada by the closing of U.S. airspace on September 11, the population of this small town on Newfoundland Island swelled from 10,300 to nearly 17,000. The citizens of Gander met the stranded passengers with an overwhelming display of friendship and goodwill. As the passengers stepped from the airplanes, exhausted, hungry and distraught after being held on board for nearly 24 hours while security checked all of the baggage, they were greeted with a feast prepared by the townspeople. Local bus drivers who had been on strike came off the picket lines to transport the passengers to the various shelters set up in local schools and churches. Linens and toiletries were bought and donated. A middle school provided showers, as well as access to computers, email, and televisions, allowing the passengers to stay in touch with family and follow the news.

Over the course of those four days, many of the passengers developed friendships with Gander residents that they expect to last a lifetime. As a show of thanks, scholarship funds for the children of Gander have been formed and donations have been made to provide new computers for the schools. This book recounts the inspiring story of the residents of Gander, Canada, whose acts of kindness have touched the lives of thousands of people and been an example of humanity and goodwill.

I can’t say enough good things about this moving, uplifting book. It documents human goodness and kindness in the face of tragedy, and is, pure and simple, a marvelous listening experience.

As the book opens, we meet an assortment of passengers and crew members from the 38 planes, as well as some of the locals in Gander. The initial chapters recount the start of these flights from Europe to various points in the United States, and the slowly spreading news that some sort of catastrophe in the US has forced a closure of all US airspace, requiring all planes in the air to land elsewhere. Gradually, the pilots and then the passengers start to learn about the terrorist attacks. The fear and disbelief and outrage are palpable, as is the very real fear that — given all the unknowns of events still occurring — there could be terrorists on board any of the planes still in the air.

As the planes land in Gander, we see the amazing efforts and generosity of the townspeople, both those in official capacities as mayor or police officer or customs official, and those who are simply people whose hearts are open to the strangers who arrive by the thousands in their small town.

The acts of kindness are beautiful to hear described. Townspeople drop off towels and linens by the carload at the shelters, with no thought of getting them back. Local pharmacists work round the clock to contact passengers’ physicians around the globe so that they can get copies of their prescriptions and make sure they have their needed medications. Local animal shelter volunteers care for the stranded animals who’d been in transit in the airplane cargo holds. A local retailer is instructed by headquarters to give the “plane people” everything they need, no money necessary. Toys are delivered, so that every single child from the planes has a new toy to play with. When it’s discovered that two Orthodox Jews are among the passengers, extraordinary efforts are made to make sure kosher food is delivered for them. The care and love, given so freely to complete strangers, is just beautiful.

Two of the most moving stories are about passengers going through extreme stress in an already stressful situation. First, there’s the couple returning from visiting relatives abroad whose son is a New York firefighter. They know he was likely one of the first responders who entered the towers, and through the time of their stay in Gander, his fate remained unknown. Second, there’s a couple from Texas on the way home from weeks in Kazakhstan where they’d just adopted a daughter. What should have been her first entry into the US and an introduction to her new life turns into an extended stay in a shelter with parents she barely knows. In both cases, as with really everyone there, the support they receive is heartwarming and unforgettable.

The book is filled with story after story of the amazing interactions between the “plane people” and the “Newfies”. The book was published just about a year after 9/11, and the author includes some follow-up in the epilogue to let us know how certain people’s lives changed since those fateful days. I’d love to know now, so many years later, how they’re doing, and whether the bonds formed in Gander have stayed strong over the years.

The Day the World Came to Town is an amazing listen. No matter how many years have gone by, the images from 9/11 remain indelible. and I found it particularly chilling to listen to the chapters which described the initial attacks and the various ways in which the passengers and flight crews heard the news. Despite the sorrow of the tragedy, this book is a lovely reminder of the good that exists in the world and the huge difference small acts can make.

Side notes:

First, a big thank you to author Dana Stabenow, whose review of this book on her blog is what made me find a copy in the first place!

Second, the musical Come From Away, now on Broadway, is also based on the events in Gander during the week of 9/11. I’ve heard such wonderful things about the show! I really hope to get to New York in the coming year — and if I do, seeing Come From Away will be high on my “must” list!


The details:

Title: The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland
Author: Jim DeFede
Narrator: Ray Porter
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication date: September 3, 2002
Length (print): 256 pages
Length (audiobook): 6 hours, 27 minutes
Genre: Non-fiction
Source: Purchased (Audible)












Take A Peek Book Review: A Fall of Marigolds by Susan Meissner

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.


(via Goodreads)

A beautiful scarf, passed down through the generations, connects two women who learn that the weight of the world is made bearable by the love we give away….

September 1911. On Ellis Island in New York Harbor, nurse Clara Wood cannot face returning to Manhattan, where the man she loved fell to his death in the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. Then, while caring for a fevered immigrant whose own loss mirrors hers, she becomes intrigued by a name embroidered onto the scarf he carries …and finds herself caught in a dilemma that compels her to confront the truth about the assumptions she’s made. Will what she learns devastate her or free her?

September 2011. On Manhattan’s Upper West Side, widow Taryn Michaels has convinced herself that she is living fully, working in a charming specialty fabric store and raising her daughter alone. Then a long-lost photograph appears in a national magazine, and she is forced to relive the terrible day her husband died in the collapse of the World Trade Towers …the same day a stranger reached out and saved her. Will a chance reconnection and a century-old scarf open Taryn’s eyes to the larger forces at work in her life?

My Thoughts:

While A Fall of Marigolds held my attention, I couldn’t quite love this book. For one thing, I’m really getting tired of the split timeline narrative that seems to be everywhere these days, especially when the two timelines are connected by some artifact of one sort or another — a painting, a diary, a doll, etc. It’s a plot device that’s becoming all too prevalent in historical fiction when the author wants a contemporary hook. In A Fall of Marigolds, it’s a colorful scarf that features in both the 1911 and 2011 stories, but the linkage between the two feels forced at times.

It’s too bad, because I might have enjoyed the book more if it had just told one story or the other. Either is compelling, and the book does contain some very dramatic and emotional moments. 9/11 is still part of our collective psyches, and it’s impossible to read Taryn’s part of the story, which includes her eyewitness experience of watching the towers fall, and not be overwhelmed by memories and feelings.

Likewise, the story of the nurses of Ellis Island and their work with infectious immigrants, as well as the story of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, is powerful and moving. But the lives of the fictional characters can’t really measure up to the terror and power of the real events. Clara’s experiences, and her fixation on the man who died in the fire in particular, seem rather lightweight when looking at the broader extent of the tragedy. Her story is enlivened by her interactions with the immigrant she nurses through scarlet fever and her dilemma regarding his own losses and secrets, but I couldn’t buy the essential premise of her part of the story and Clara’s view on love and destiny.

The entire plot of A Fall of Marigolds seems to rest quite a bit on the characters coming to terms with events outside of their control. For both Taryn and Clara, they’re left to sort out whether things were meant to happen, or whether their own actions were somehow to blame for outcomes that could otherwise have been avoided. Clara’s need to figure out whether her love for the man she barely knew was real is vital to her, but her fixation on the loss of what might have been begins to feel overblown as the story progresses. On the other hand, Taryn’s guilt over surviving and the loss of her husband feel quite real, and her story gets a pay-off that is bittersweet yet satisfying.

Parts of this book are quite good, but as a whole, there’s some essential element missing. And as I said, the overall structure doesn’t work for me in general — I really would not have started this book, knowing it was a “two-women-from-two-different-eras-linked-by-one-special-thing” kind of story, were it not a book group pick. I’m glad to have read it, but knowing now that most of this author’s works have a similar two-timeline structure, I don’t think I’ll be seeking out more of her books.


The details:

Title: A Fall of Marigolds
Author: Susan Meissner
Publisher: NAL
Publication date: January 1, 2014
Length: 394 pages
Genre: Contemporary/historical fiction
Source: Purchased




Shelf Control #57: Firehouse

Shelves final

Welcome to the newest weekly feature here at Bookshelf Fantasies… Shelf Control!

Shelf Control is all about the books we want to read — and already own! Consider this a variation of a Wishing & Waiting post… but looking at books already available, and in most cases, sitting right there on our shelves and e-readers.

Want to join in? See the guidelines and linky at the bottom of the post, and jump on board! Let’s take control of our shelves!


My Shelf Control pick this week is:

firehouseTitle: Firehouse
Author: David Halberstam
Published: 2003
Length: 208 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

“In the firehouse, the men not only live and eat with each other, they play sports together, go off to drink together, help repair one another’s houses, and, most important, share terrifying risks; their loyalties to each other must, by the demands of the dangers they face, be instinctive and absolute.”

So writes David Halberstam, one of America’s most distinguished reporters and historians, in this stunning New York Times bestselling book about Engine 40, Ladder 35, located on the West Side of Manhattan near Lincoln Center. On the morning of September 11, 2001, two rigs carrying thirteen men set out from this firehouse: twelve of them would never return.

Firehouse takes us to the epicenter of the tragedy. Through the kind of intimate portraits that are Halberstam’s trademark, we watch the day unfold–the men called to duty while their families wait anxiously for news of them. In addition, we come to understand the culture of the firehouse itself: why gifted men do this; why, in so many instances, they are eager to follow in their fathers’ footsteps and serve in so dangerous a profession; and why, more than anything else, it is not just a job, but a calling.

This is journalism-as-history at its best, the story of what happens when one small institution gets caught in an apocalyptic day. Firehouse is a book that will move readers as few others have in our time.

How I got it:

I found it at a library sale.

When I got it:

About 3 – 4 years ago.

Why I want to read it:

To be honest, the cover caught my eye while I was browsing the sale. At the time, I didn’t realize this book was focusing on 9/11 — I saw Halberstam’s name, and remembering reading one of his books during college, so I picked it up. I’m not usually much of a non-fiction reader, but given the subject matter, the author, and the relatively short length of the book, this is one that I think I really do need to make time to read, and soon.


Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link below!
  • And if you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and have fun!

For more on why I’ve started Shelf Control, check out my introductory post here, or read all about my out-of-control book inventory, here.

And if you’d like to post a Shelf Control button on your own blog, here’s an image to download (with my gratitude, of course!):

Shelf Control