By Dan De Neve
Journalist Jim DeFede’s The Day the World Came to Town is the story of 38 jetliners rerouted to Gander, Newfoundland on Sept. 11, 2001. About 6,000 passengers from around the world are greeted with an outpouring of friendship and goodwill rarely seen.
After landing, many hours pass before any of the passengers are allowed to disembark from the planes. However, when they finally get off, they are treated to a feast. Furthermore, the locals do everything they can to make their guests’ stays as comfortable as possible.
Despite being strangers in a strange town, residents welcome them into their homes, with a place to shower and a warm bed to sleep. Some are offered free use of a vehicle, no questions asked. The local bar even provides free alcohol every night.
Flight crews are housed in local hotels. Schools and local buildings house many passengers. Two intrepid young women camp out in a tent during their stay in Gander.
While the hospitality is greatly appreciated and makes life easier, passengers struggle with the fallout of the attacks. Many cannot reach loved ones soon enough to find out if everyone is safe. Others just want to get home. Some are traveling with young children.
Many passengers need to have prescriptions filled. Medicine is problematic, in that many other countries use different names for medicines and authorizations had to be obtained. Traveling pets are another issue. In all the commotion, they are almost forgotten.
Even then, the animals had to be found among all the luggage in each plane’s hold and then kept in quarantine in their cages in a hangar with hardly any contact.
While DeFede tracks several of the passengers and the residents, one husband and wife stood out, as they did not find out what happened to their son until the end of the book. Another pair of passengers began a romantic relationship and hoped it would continue despite living in two separate states. Many passengers and residents remain friends and keep in touch long after parting ways.
This was an amazing book. The goodwill of the residents to complete strangers was uplifting. When it seems that all we read, hear, and see is bad news, this book was refreshing and optimistic.
Additionally, since it was written by a journalist, the story is fast-paced. DeFede gives us objectivity without opinion. Despite the circumstances regarding 9/11, the book remains positive, and I highly recommend it.
The book was the November read for the Seaside book group that meets at the Dana Point Library on the fourth Monday of every month. For more information, please call 949.496.5517.
Dan De Neve is a longtime employee of the Orange County Public Library. He currently works at the Dana Point Library as the Adult Services Librarian. He is an avid reader of history, biographies and sports.
Discussion about this post