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Book Review: In the Shadow of No Towers

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Art Spiegelman, the author of the amazing, powerful book Maus gives his reaction to the destruction of the twin towers. Is In the Shadow of No Towers as amazing and brilliant as Maus? No. Is it fair to hold him to that standard? Not really.

The book contains&#8212in his cartoon format&#8212some of his memories of September 11, when he and his wife went to pick up their daughter amid chaos at her New York City school.

Where the book really takes off, though, is when he objects&#8212in his unique, creative way&#8212to how President Bush uses the September 11 attacks to wage war in the Middle East. Spiegelman, no fan of Bush, accuses the President of “hijacking” the tragedy to gain public support, settle scores and help big business.

Whether you agree with the artist or not on that issue, Spiegelman’s book is a must-read for anyone interested in cartoons and/or how artists are addressing their emotional reaction to the attacks.

I give it an 8.

This review was originally posted in my blog.
ed/Pub:NB Edited: PC

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About Scott Butki

Scott Butki was a newspaper reporter for more than 10 years before making a career change into education... then into special education. He has been doing special education work for about five years He lives in Austin. He reads at least 50 books a year and has about 15 author interviews each year and, yes, unlike tv hosts he actually reads each one. He is an in-house media critic, a recovering Tetris addict and a proud uncle. He has written articles on practically all topics from zoos to apples and almost everything in between.
  • http://www.mrisports.com Ben Miraski

    Isn’t then Spiegelman hijacking the tragedy of this event and his (presumably large) audience to rip on the President?

    I had read that most of the book was him expressing his views on the President and that was enough to keep me from seeking out what otherwise would have been an interesting book for me.

  • http://www.scoopstories.typepad.com Scott Butki

    I think less than one-third of the book consists of comments on the president and that is more about the administration’s overreacting to the situation.

  • http://journals.aol.com/vicl04/VictorLana/ Victor Lana

    Interesting, Scott. I haven’t seen Spiegelman’s book yet, but it is telling that the book is so political.

    Since I have my own 9/11 book coming out later this year (a collection of short stories), I want to see the reaction to this work. In the 12 stories in my book, I hoped to get the human angle. How did 9/11 affect regular people? The answer, I believe, can be found in my fiction about 12 different situations (which I hope has some truth).

    I purposely didn’t want the book to be overtly political. I think by dealing with the individual stories of people and how 9/11 impacted them is the crucial thing, not the politics. That will take care of itself.

  • http://www.scoopstories.typepad.com Scott Butki

    When I talk about the book being political or Bush reacting to 9/11 I’m talking about life post-9/11 and the government using victims grief to start the war(s).

    Good luck with your book.

  • http://journals.aol.com/vicl04/VictorLana/ Victor Lana

    I hear you, Scott. Loud and clear. I think it can happen both ways. If you have a chance, take a look at one particular story that has already been published to see how I went about it in the book.


  • http://dianahartman.blogspot.com/ diana hartman

    scot, please forgive the hijack…

    victor, “red badge of nothing” was really something…
    the morn of 9/11 i sat outside the gates of camp lejeune for 2 very stressful hours trying to get back on base from an appt out in town…at that point no one knew what was going to happen next…in the meantime i was cut off from my kids, my husband, my home, my everything…but i digress…

    i’ve been visiting our wounded at the american hospital in landstuhl regularly for about two years now, mostly the marines as i’m a marine wife, but wounded is wounded so the german chocolate i take with me is equal opportunity…there are more jeffs there than you can shake a stick at…there are also those who are not like jeff at all, and of course the inbetweens…your story surprised me because i’ve not run into many civilians who really bother to get to know the wounded in a way that they could convey what you did…i’ve heard what you wrote several times, paraphrased by the marine liaisons and the chaplains…
    i feel unbelievably humbled by the experiences of both the liaisons and the wounded…every time i return from the hospital it is with the desire to get home, get hugging on my kids and husband, and hope that bottle of chablis i bought at the wine festival earlier in the week will help me forget the wounds even as i will never be able to forget the wounded…
    well done you…

  • http://journals.aol.com/vicl04/VictorLana/ Victor Lana


    Thanks for your comments. I am humbled by them. No one has more of a right to be heard and honored than these men and women who have lost parts of themselves, whether physical or not. They are more than heroes and deserve to be honored somehow, some way.

    Thanks again!


  • http://www.scoopstories.typepad.com Scott Butki

    Great story. No sweat on the topic hijacking.

    “Isn’t then Spiegelman hijacking the tragedy of this event and his (presumably large) audience to rip on the President?”

    Well, by that argument Spiegelman’s former book, Maus, writing about his family’s experiences in the Holocaust is a “hijacking” of that event.

    Personally I don’t have a problem with an author – or even a politician – communicating what they experienced, be it in the Sept. 11 attacks or the Holocaust or whatever.

    So if Bush wants to talk about how he – as shown in I wrote
    Fahrenheit 9/11 – was sitting reading a children’s story during the attacks – he can do so.

    What Speigelman questions – as do I – are people (including Bush) who tried to channel the anger at the attacks into the war first at Afghanistan and then in Iraq despite there not being a link between Iraq and 9/11.

  • http://dianahartman.blogspot.com/ diana hartman

    Isn’t then Spiegelman hijacking the tragedy of this event and his (presumably large) audience to rip on the President?

    speigelman didn’t use the tragedy of 9/11 to promote his ideas about the president, he used what the president did to promote his ideas about the president…if there was a misuse of the same information (the tragedy) on both parts (speigelman and the president), there’s still a big difference between using it to write a book and using it to wage war — and i don’t think speigelman is the one who has erred…

  • http://journals.aol.com/vicl04/VictorLana/ Victor Lana

    Diana has said it best. Lovely.

    Books don’t get soldiers killed; presidents do (among others).

  • http://dianahartman.blogspot.com/ diana hartman

    yes, presidents send their militaries off to war and people get killed but it’s more than that…
    the reasons for the military getting sent off in the first place has every bit as much to do with it…i just don’t think iraq had anything to do with 9/11 or finding bin laden or stopping terrorism …
    hell i’d have been happy with bush having said “saddam is a bad guy and while he has nothing to do with why we’re in that part of the world, he’s nonetheless a terrorist in his own right, and since we’re already in that part of the world, we’d thought we’d stop in and take him down”…
    americans like a president who takes a stand and performs, but more often it seems like americans just want a performance and to hell with the stand…no definition, no terms, no goal — just go, be, dobedobedo…i prefer a president who not only takes a stand but also performs by participation…bush’ presidency couldn’t be more vicarious…i wish there was a law that stated no president, via congress, gets to wage war without actively participating…assuming one’s vice president is all that and a bag of medals, then this person can and should take over in the president’s absence…i’m all about keeping the guy protected from harm just as generals are currently protected, but a president who stays on american soil while his military goes to war in another country is nothing more than a teenager playing Risk by mail…

    a president’s detachment is one thing, but distance, disassociation, and disregard? that’s too many d-words…he’s not been to landstuhl even though he’s been to germany…he hasn’t visited any field hospitals in iraq or afghanistan even though he’s been to both countries…that his entourage has stumbled upon some wounded along the way isn’t the same thing as a deliberate effort to visit injured troops — and is it too much to suggest that somene’s head rolled later for not keeping the wounded out of his way?

    his initial behaviors after both 9/11 and katrina highlight his ineffectiveness as a person, a man, and a leader…so what that he apologized after katrina? so what that he took responsibilty? there should’ve been nothing to apologize or take responsibility for in the first place…it’s not like he’s explained his initial post-9/11 behavior; it’s not like he’s the one who will actually be making the real and physical amends per katrina; and it’s not like any show of regret on his part has resulted in a change in behavior…why is he bothering to apologize when clearly what he’s apologizing for is his standard procedure? in fact i think it can be safely said that the apology itself is now part of his repertoire given that blindly barreling into situations and ignoring the plights of his own people (survivors and servicemembers) didn’t work so well for him…jeezy creezy, we expect more from a child’s apology than we do a president’s…
    a president should take responsibility for those injured and killed for our collective cause…he should not take ownership of them or the cause as if the cause were his alone…the cause is ours, the wounded and dead are ours — not his…his obligatory and insincere shows of regard for those killed and injured is shameful and clearly indicative of his skewed perspective…
    i’ve seen one of his performances for myself at camp lejeune and i can honestly say i’ve never seen anything so contrived…

    stopping terrorism is a valid reason for war and this is as much a reason for death and injury as is the president having sent our military in to stop terrorism…it’s the thing a parent or spouse can point at as the reason his/her loved one is no longer with us or is confined to a breathing machine for the rest of his/her days…
    bush twisted this validity up with his own aspirations and selfish egotistical desires…he’s like a child trying to imitate john wayne only worse — he takes all the glory of the sacrifice and leaves all the responsibility and consequences for those sacrifices at the feet of the wounded, the dead, and their families…those not directly effected by these sacrifices have little idea of the monstrosity that is getting due assistance for the sacrifices made…it’s disgusting and transparent…he has no right to do this, to drain the honor and glory from sacrifices made to prop up his own bullshit agenda, to ignore those who fought, those who died, and those will never live the same again…no doubt he thought his place in the history books was assured, and he would be right, but not for the reasons he would’ve hoped for…
    the cause and the sacrifices are valid but this isn’t good enough for bush and that’s what’s wrong with this entire administration…talk about your “me” generation…he deliberately leads the easily led into believing this isn’t about the sacrifices for the cause but rather that it’s all about his cause, so that the sacrifices come in second after him, not second after the cause itself…

    it’s a good thing bush wasn’t a leader during WWII else we wouldn’t have heard from him about normandy or the millions killed by hitler…rather we’d be hearing him spout off about, well, anything other than what the hell was going on at the time…
    he’s such a passive-aggressive egomaniac…i really don’t like him…uh-uh, no i don’t…

    i long for the day colin powell becomes president, and i lament that i will never get to bear his children…