It was a tale of loss and recovery, of courage and sorrow, of horror and inspiration. Tania Head’s astonishing account of her experience on September 11, 2001—from crawling through the carnage and chaos to escaping the seventy-eighth-floor sky lobby of the burning south tower to losing her fiancé in the collapsed north tower—transformed her into one of the great victims and heroes of that tragic day.
Tania selflessly took on the responsibility of giving a voice and a direction to the burgeoning World Trade Center Survivors’ Network, helping save the “Survivor Stairway” and leading tours at Ground Zero, including taking then-governor Pataki, Mayor Bloomberg, and former mayor Giuliani on the inaugural tour of the WTC site. She even used her own assets to fund charitable events to help survivors heal. But there was something very wrong with Tania’s story—a terrible secret that would break the hearts and challenge the faith of all those she claimed to champion.
Told with the unique insider perspective and authority of Angelo J. Guglielmo, Jr., a filmmaker shooting a documentary on the efforts of the Survivors’ Network, and previously one of Tania’s closest friends, The Woman Who Wasn’t There is the story of one of the most audacious and bewildering quests for acclaim in recent memory—one that poses fascinating questions about the essence of morality and the human need for connection at any cost.
Tania Head is one of the most famous September 11 survivors, with an amazing story of perseverance. After escaping the 96th floor of the South Tower and suffering the loss of her fianc in the North Tower, she helped found the highly influential World Trade Center Survivor Network. But her account, and even her name, turned out to be a complete fabrication when Head is found to be a delusional, pathological liar. In this disturbing, riveting reporting of Head's tenure as the face of the survivor movement, Fisher (After the Fire) and Guglielmo (a filmmaker) depict a woman who inspires anger and heartbreak but also admiration. Head first appears in 2003, sharing her story with an online support group for survivors. At the time, everyone other than first responders and families of the dead are overlooked; survivors are never allowed private access at the site, given scant attention from the media, and their families, friends, employers, and doctors have little understanding of their grief and guilt. Head, aided by her incredible account and a seemingly indomitable spirit, successfully transforms the network of survivors from a nonentity to one that becomes a very visible force with a say in countless matters pertaining to the World Trade Center. It's only in 2007, on the eve of the sixth anniversary, after the New York Times decides to profile her, that Head and her story unravel. A documentary made by Guglielmo about Head will debut on television later this year.
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As other reviews have noted, the truth of this story is harder to believe than the fiction spun by the title character. It is a fast and fascinating read. Unfortunately, the book never really answers the most besetting aspect of the tale ... Why? Why would anyone go to such lengths? Also, the book felt a bit padded towards the middle, and thin at the end, dealing with the aftermath of the exposure for the true survivors and especially for Tania/Alicia herself. Perhaps there just isn't much information about her now that she's dropped from sight. It's the kind of tale that would fit best in a long New Yorker article. Still, it is a tale worth reading and raises questions about how much we trust what others tell about themselves, and how eager we are to believe when we are offered support and succor.
Absolutely Terrific - a riveting read!
Once I started reading this book, I couldn't put it down. The emotions jump off the page leaving one with not only the raw, bruised anxiety caused by 9-11 but also the struggle to come up for air and simply survive. For Ms. Head to do what she did is simply unforgivable and in a sad, pathetic way, you wish you just knew WHY. I have said fierce prayers for every person who crossed paths with Ms. Head...their betrayal by her is extremely difficult to comprehend but these writers description of events, conversations and more are outstanding. I'm looking forward to watching the movie on The ID network to further understand.
I literally finished this in less than 24 hours. I just couldn't put it down