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September 11, 2011

Ten Years Later

Like many people, I don’t require an anniversary to allow for reflection about what happened in New York City and around the world on September 11, 2001. So much that has happened since has seemed to spin out of those strange few hours on that blue, blue morning– ours was the same sky, and it was beautiful. But, also like so many people, this tenth anniversary has me reflecting on my own proximity to the tragedy, and remembering that it was the first day of my final year of university, how I heard the news of a plane crash on my pink clock radio and how I turned on our tiny TV, and saw the second tower fall. How the CN Tower was dark that night, and watching CNN on the TV at KOS at College and Bathurst where I ate french fries with my friends. It seemed like the end of something, of the world, of innocence, of the old world order, and that would have been bad enough (and perhaps even good, in a sense), but what that day turned out to be instead was the beginning of something, and that something would only get worse. We’ve come of age in a world I never would have imagined on September 10, 2001, that night I sat on my rooftop balcony and pretended I smoked, and longed for something to happen.

Where we are now is reflected in Granta 116: Ten Years Later, my second foray into this magnificent magazine. (Events are being held around the world in connection with the launch of this issue. I attended on last Wednesday, with readings and discussions.) With all the memorializing, self-indulgent weeping (mine, I mean) and discussions of my pink clock radio, what’s missing, of course, is context, and here we find it in abundance. Here is the kind of memorial that matters, not so much reliving that terrible day but looking around and seeing where it’s taken us. Though theme is loose– “Why this story? Why this issue?” asked Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer, whose short story “Laikas 1” appears here, last Wednesday at the event at Type Books. The connections are not immediately clear, and sometimes they don’t come clear at all, but that’s sort of the way it is with this sort of thing, with how did we get from here there to here. The trajectory is rarely straightforward.

Phil Klay’s  “Deployment” is deeply affecting story of a soldier home from Iraq who’s on the verge of breakdown as he struggles to make sense of what he saw there and the things he did there, and the strange connections (or disconnections) between these and the civilian life he’s meant to live again. In “A Tale of Two Martyrs”, we learn of the human stories behind the events that sparked The Arab Spring. In “Crossbones”, a man searches for his son who has disappeared to Somalia to join an Al Queda faction. There are two stories (on fiction, one not) of men who were wrongly sold by Afghan warlords to the Americans for the $5000 reward they were paying for terrorists.

A strange, wonderful story of a North Korean spy aboard a derelict fishing boat, Libyan graffiti artists, photos of Libyan refugees in a camp on the Libyan border. Elliot Woods writes about a variety of perspectives of American serviceman, underlined by his own wretched experiences. Declan Walsh’s phenomenal “Jihad Redux” tells the story of foreign intervention in the Afghan tribal regions over the last 100 years– the same old story, except it’s not, and understanding why is important. Kathryn’s “Laikas 1” is so terribly funny, and gruesome, and its connections to the rest of the issue exalt the issue entire– this story of the TTC and High Park coyotes so belongs here. Then Anthony Shahid’s “American Age, Iraq” about a Jesuit college in Baghdad that thrived from the ‘thirties to the ‘sixties, and about what “America” represented to the rest of the world before it began to mean “boots on the ground.”

Clearly then, there is a world beyond that long ago view from my balcony (though Kathryn’s story affirms that my Toronto view was there), and here we look forwards and backwards to discover it. Posing questions without answers, and challenging the answers I always figured were obvious, and if you really want to retrace the route from there to here, I’d say Granta 116 would be a essential volume to bring on the journey.

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