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The Smoke Week: Sept. 11-21, 2001
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on October 7, 2003
Two years after September 11th 2001 it has become difficult for many of us to remember what those days felt like. Even at the time the media were busy selecting what we would see, hear, and know. The emphasis at the time was on those who died and those who lost family members and friends to death. The vociferous antiwar sentiment among so many New Yorkers never made it to TV or major newspapers. Since then the whole event has been swallowed up in the political narratives we tell about what followed.
Ellis Avery's THE SMOKE WEEK is an incredibly immediate account of some ordinary New Yorkers grappling with the WTC attacks and their aftermath. The book describes the smells and sounds of a city filled with death and destruction, how people struggle to make sense of an unprecedented experience, their painful return to some normalcy, their confusion about how the US should respond.
Told almost completely without hindsight, the book grabs us with its poetry. It delivers concrete experience, sensation, perception. Avery doesn't explain, predict or preach: she bears witness using images and metaphors of great power and beauty.
This is a beautiful and moving account of ugly times. I've noticed that people who make each other's acquaintance for the first time post-9/11/01 soon need to trade stories of where they were that day. It seems that we still need to return to that day and understand it from an individual point of view. This book is a chance to read one person's story -- a representative story, but told with unique grace. If you can bear to read only one book about September 11th, read this one.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on November 11, 2003
If you are contemplating this book with heavy heart and jaundiced eye, thinking, Yeah right, yet another crass attempt to capitalize on one of the grimmest moments in our history - think again. This is a book to read if you are more interested in testimonial than posturing, and more interested in commemoration than remembering. What I mean is, "remembering" was sold to us by the media as a nightmarish repetition of the events of 9/11, as if looking at those images over and over again could make us understand what happened. Well, of course it didn't, and that's not, mercifully, what Avery offers here. Instead she fixes memory, roots it in place through her exacting account of a city's efforts to reconstitute itself in the wake of disaster. And reconstitution in Avery's New York does not mean pretending that everything will be fine, that everything can go back to the way it was. It means waking up to the fact that even the most apparently insignificant action can be all that stands between despair and courage, between isolation and connection.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on December 25, 2003
I read this book slowly: it was too compelling to not want to read, too beautiful to stop and too hard to read in one swallow. It is personal and intimate. But it gives a much deeper appreciation of not only one woman's experience of that trauma, but also what the nation must have felt. I recommend it to anyone who wants a personal account of that time. Something much deeper, more heartfelt and ultimately more sane and thoughtful than any kind of "war on terror" reactionary work that might be out there.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on December 16, 2003
Ellis Avery's The Smoke Week is an extraordinary book. By turns telegraphic, conversational, intimate, and lyrical -- even, around the edges, a little funny -- she writes of the first hours and days after the destruction of the World Trade Center with an attention to detail and a refusal of cliché that puts most other accounts of those days to shame. It's as though, right there downtown with disaster coming on, she began to observe as carefully and compassionately as she possibly could, to keep herself sane -- and the fine sentences here, the precisely rendered stories, are the result.
I see a bumper sticker sometimes in San Francisco: STAY HUMAN. The pressure, nowadays, in the jingoistic frenzy of the so-called "war on terror," is to become something else, "patriots" or "dissidents," or some other super-charged category. But Avery's book is a reminder that, on September 11, 2001, the people in downtown New York weren't just "America Under Attack," or some other hollow slogan; her prose makes you see something like the human experience of that day. That's no small achievement; and I can't recommend this book enough.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on November 15, 2003
Reading Avery's poetic documentation of the days before and after 9/11, I realize that she was able to paper what I could not. If you were in NYC or anywhere - this book taps into the uncertainty and sorrow that so many of us felt during this snapshot of time. I too was living in the E. Village at the time and I too did not know anyone who died. What I did (and still) know is that the community of NYC grieved, connected and undoubtedly has been altered. What struck me most about The Smoke Week was the displayed honesty noting a community in confusion mirrored with the personal. What to eat today? Is my phone going to work? Should we fly? Average tasks became grand activities. Avery's account is an honest fist hand peek into one New Yorkers perception on how a world-changing tragedy is just as significantly, a personal one.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on December 9, 2003
I completely agree with the other reviewers that this book is *not* one of those "let's celebrate the heroes" books about the World Trade Center Attacks. Instead, it's a beautiful, spare-but-luxurious, honest memoir of the day it happened and about a week afterward. I stopped counting the number of times I started crying because something Avery wrote was *exactly* the way I remember feeling. The writing is absolutely gorgeous, but the real draw of the book is the humanity. In 20 years, *this* is the book people will read to understand the effects of September 11, 2001 on the people of New York City.
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on June 5, 2009
This is a beautiful book of lyrical diary entries from Sept. 11 and the ensuing week. The writer is deeply thoughtful and compassionate; an epicure and a true lover of New York City in all its variety, its bohemianism, its verve and democratic spirit--all of which are captured in short but rich prose poems. I was moved over and over by the empathy that informs Avery's portraits of the burning towers, of grieving relatives and friends, of people passed on the street, of her beloved Sharon. And I am convinced that a major press would have taken this book if the author weren't forthright about her lesbianism (more power to her for it); truly, this little book deserves to become a classic among artistic responses to the events of Sept. 11. Read it and remember why we live, why we love our country, and what matters most in our lives: kindness, appreciation of other people and cultures, the embrace of non-violence whenever possible.
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on March 27, 2012
Wonderful book. This book brings back memories from that horrific week. While I was in Atl and could only imagine and empathize, I could have never imagined living in NYC during this time. The book is a reminder of impact of the WTC attacks had on New Yorkers and how they coped that first week.
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