written by Alissa Torres
illustrated by Sungyoon Choi
Alissa and Eddie shared not just an American love story, but a New York one, a story that didn’t receive the happy ending it deserved. They met in a downtown club, and as they left to take a walk and get to know each other better, they emerged into the shadow of the World Trade Center. At least this is how Alissa remembers it in the pages of American Widow, an emotionally wrenching but never sentimental work that manages to whittle this epic tragedy down to the intensely personal.
Alissa and her new beau, Luis Eduardo “Eddie” Torres, enjoyed a whirlwind romance. They met in August 1998, just a week before Eddie was scheduled to face a possible deportation back to Colombia if his work visa expired. He stayed, and Alissa stayed with him. Seven months later they were married.
In September 2001, Alissa was seven months pregnant and Eddie was unemployed. His desperate search for work brought him to Cantor Fitzgerald, who hired him to start on September 10th in their offices in the World Trade Center. The next day, he died along with all the other employees in the office that day.
American Widow doesn’t wallow in self-pity, but it does clearly evoke the emotions --- still so raw --- that we all felt seven years ago. Alissa Torres reportedly decided to tell her own 9/11 story in graphic novel form after she remarked to a friend that all the pitfalls she faced in dealing with its aftermath made her think that her life was like a comic book. Perhaps, although it can definitely be said that the medium lends itself awfully well to the story she is telling. In a way, this blending of unadulterated passionate feelings, coupled with cold hard facts, is perfect for the graphic medium. Torres and her artist, Sungyoon Choi, use it to their advantage, mixing real events with imagination and jumbling the timeline in a way that drives the story home even more.
With sheer frustration, we follow Alissa as she attempts not only to navigate the final days of her pregnancy but also to sort through the incredible volume of paperwork, bureaucracy and pigheadedness that followed 9/11. With a media chomping at the bit to show the personal tragedy of pregnant widows, Alissa and others similar to her draw attention, but the outpouring of support lasts only so long. Months later, with no money coming in and extensive bills racking up, frustrations mount and sympathy has seemingly dissipated, to be replaced by accusations of greed and celebrity-seeking.
It’s a sad turn of events, and watching it all unfold from the relative safety of being seven years removed from that day makes it somewhat surreal to witness. We sense Alissa’s ongoing frustration and feel it firsthand. We ache for what she lost (she never loses focus of the love story at the heart of this book). We mourn, and we feel bad for the child that will never know his father. We feel lost and strive desperately for answers in the text. Some answers come. Some don’t. That’s the legacy of 9/11. Alissa Torres probably realizes that as well as anyone.-- John Hogan