Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Day the World Came to Town by Jim DeFede

I have never considered myself to be a lover of non-fiction. But my best reads of the past two years have all been non-fiction, so I think I'm starting to change my mind about that.

I stumbled across this book after I read Thunder Dog earlier this year. Both deal with the events of September 11, 2001 but in completely different ways.

In this book, we read the stories of various people who found themselves stranded in Gander, Newfoundland after American airspace was closed and pilots were told to land their planes at the nearest possible airport. Nearly 40 planes landed in Gander (population a little over 10,000), which resulted in 6,500 passengers finding themselves in this little town that few of them had ever heard of before. Gander dropped everything to welcome these travellers with open arms. They gave them places to sleep, food to eat, computers and phones to stay in touch with family, clothes, showers, whatever they could possibly need to get through that difficult time. Stores would often give the "plane people" whatever they needed for free, just to help out.

Churches, community groups, schools and clubs all pitched in to help. I was particularly proud of the mentions of the work of the Salvation Army and I know my former boss was actually in charge of the Army's work in Gander at that time. Everyone worked together to help others, because that is the "Newfie way".

The book follows several different individuals and families through their experiences in Gander during that week. It is a bit difficult to keep the different story threads straight, but it is usually pretty easy to remember who is being talked about. Whether is the story of the Orthodox Jewish Rabbi, the parents waiting for word about their son the NYC firefighter, the parents of the newly adopted Russian girl, or any of the others you will be drawn to the characters and their stories.

Among other things, this book caused me to think about my own Newfie roots in a new, even prouder light. I loved hearing the stories of the people of Gander opening their homes and offering support to people they had never met before. Although the "plane people" only spent a few days in Gander, friendships were formed that will probably last a lifetime.

So while there was a lot of pain and heartbreak during these days, the response of the people of Gander made an incredibly difficult time much easier. I loved this book and highly recommend it. I'm looking forward to hearing the views of the other members of my book club on Sunday evening.

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