North of 9/11

North of 9/11

By Richard Wong

A review of North Of 9/11 by David Bernans

Published on October 1, 2006

North Of 9/11
David Bernans

Cumulus Press
$18
paper
256pp
978-0-9733499-6-2

Correct me if I’m wrong, but a little voice tells me that muckraker David Bernans – a “political gadfly,” according to The Gazette – doesn’t intend to have his novel North of 9/11 read as a straight-up thriller. But as such, it scores points for sheer entertainment value.

Set in and around the downtown Concordia University campus during the days and weeks following the September 11th attacks, Bernans’ book aspires to denounce American foreign policy, one in which U.S. prosperity has come at the expense of less fortunate countries, and 9/11 – while unquestionably tragic and a criminal act of terrorism – was an inevitable reactionary sucker-punch to years of American imperial hegemony.

Nineteen-year-old Sarah Murphy is a spunky first-year Women’s Studies major at Concordia University. (Yes, she is pierced, and wears bandanas, as well as army boots; all that’s missing are cornrows for her hair.) She has no compunction when it comes to impressing upon others her radical left-wing beliefs, and seems to take a great deal of pride in her arsenal of socialist rhetoric. She masterminds the occupation of a local public relations firm with direct ties to arms manufacturers connected to the American military. The plan is to unfurl a banner denouncing the United States’ bombing campaign in Afghanistan. “Congratulations fellow terrorists. We have taken control of a key Canadian outpost of American imperialism!” Sarah says, after the success of her plot. This company, ironically, is where her stodgy, suit-wearing father works. Jack is the story’s right-wing antagonist, and a real villain: he’s heartless, racist, and motivated purely by profit. On hearing of the World Trade Center attacks, his first reaction is to figure out how to “sell people the sanctuary they so desperately needed.” Hassan, an Arab cab driver and divorced father of two, is Sarah’s tutor and co-author of their anti-American manifesto.

Bernans won’t win any awards for his prose, but while it is inelegant in the manner of Tom Clancy, it’s efficient and keeps the story moving briskly. On the other hand, Bernans sketches his main characters as gross caricatures. While it’s difficult to decide whether this is inadvertent or deliberately done in order to draw the greatest contrast possible between the bad and good guys, it undermines the seriousness of the book’s message.

There’s no doubting the strength of Bernans’ convictions, but North of 9/11 achieves only mixed results. The storyline isn’t difficult to accept, but it’s tough to interpret Sarah as anything more than a comical, granola-crunching hippie. With the messenger compromised, it follows that the message itself would be too. As it is, North of 9/11 is a flawed but fun read. mRb

Richmond Wong is a Montreal editor and freelance writer, now living in Toronto.

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