“This is our strength, to love death to feel the claim of armed martyrdom.”—Says one of the terrorist characters in Don DeLillo’s novel Falling Man. On this year marking the 9th anniversary of the September 11 attacks this piece of literary imagination seems holding a crucial ground. DeLillo’s novelistic endeavor captures the flutter and fury of the unforgettable moment in the history of the most powerful nation on earth. Though the novel fails to raise any crucial existential issues, as the family shown as the central concern of the novel deals with issues and concerns that could be seen in any other good chick lit, coming to its ending pages, this work of fiction captures some real action and raises significant questions.
The novel stretches its lines from philosophical reflections ranging from God, and Communism to the religion of Islam and racism. Apart from that what makes the novel crucial in the socio-politico-cultural context of the present day world, is its backdrop. The novel has taken the background of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, 2001. It uses recurrently the image of the falling man that had captured the attention of the whole world, as a photograph that reveals the entirety of hopelessness and desperation of human life met with the vastness of the unknown, the boundary of life; death.
The protagonist, Keith has survived the attack from the North Tower. Keith lives alone after separating from his wife. Covered with glass and blood he walks back home. He reaches home, not the house he was living alone but the house where his wife Lianne and child lives. The visit to a terrain near death brings him back to his family. But there is more life has to offer him.
As the main story of the novel runs alongside the life of Keith and Lianne in their changed circumstances there is another story that runs parallel--the story of the terrorist; Hammad. Hammad involves himself in the planning and operation of the plane crash on the Towers. The progression of this story is reverse to the main story if Keith and Lianne. Hammad’s story ends with the plane crash—his martyrdom, which he meets with in the end of the book. Though these two stories follow a distinct path, the main story supports the second story through out the end part. The novel ends with Keith’s recollection of his experiences during the fall of the twin towers. He sees a shirt falling down. “Then he saw a shirt come down out of the sky. He walked and saw it fall, arms waving like nothing in this life”—says the closing sentence of the novel. Thus the novel begins and ends with the same picture of suffering and death.
The war on terror that the USA started before nine years has already faced unprecedented criticisms from allies and critics alike concerning the real aims of the war, the causalities in the army taking part on the operations, etc. But still, the war on terror remains a battle between the one who finds it his ultimate delight to register his mortality in the war, and the one whose fear for death is total and utmost. The enemy and his war strategies are as new to the Western allies as the barbarism in the valleys of the Middle East are primitive. On the ninth year of the terror strikes, the reactions that followed one of humanities most naïve actions, the Twin Tower attack, is a point that every one who considers himself or herself a member of the global community should rethink.
The ending part of the novel showcases a carnival of death. It portrays humans dying. The endless pain and torturous reality presents itself as if the dead specimen of an animal preserved in a paraffin jar unable to let lose its ferocity even after its death; its life before death captured and kept in tact inside the jar; the same way the attacks remain in our minds with the same morbidity, even after these long nine years.