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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.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2012-02-27
- Reviewer: Staff
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 fiancé 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. (Apr.)
The truth behind a sham survivor
Tania Head was in the south tower of the World Trade Center when a hijacked jet sliced through it, leaving her severely injured and barely able to escape before the tower came crashing down. In those same perilous moments, her fiancé died in the blaze of the north tower.
Or so her story went.
The subtitle of The Woman Who Wasn’t There is “The True Story of an Incredible Deception,” but “incredible” doesn’t begin to capture the depth of Head’s lies in the wake of the horrific terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Head, whose seeming strength and resilience made her a cause célèbre and co-chair of the powerful World Trade Center Survivors’ Network, was not in the tower on that awful day. She was not even in the country.
How Head managed to hoodwink so many for so long is the focus of this fascinating book. She started her deception shortly after September 11, when she joined an online survivors’ forum. Her mind-boggling story of loss and hope comforted others suffering from guilt and post-traumatic stress. No one thought to question the veracity of her account, which included an encounter with a badly burned man in the 78th-floor sky lobby who begged her to return his wedding ring to his wife. Her story began to unravel only after a New York Times reporter profiling her for an anniversary story tried to verify her claims.
Head’s motives are perhaps unknowable, but the reader is left yearning for more answers than the authors are able to give. Certainly Head had her share of traumatic experiences: As a teen, she was in a serious car accident that nearly severed her arm. Her parents had an ugly divorce, and her father and brother were involved in a high-profile embezzlement scandal. But what causes someone to exploit such a tragic event? Head never applied for victim compensation, and her work with the Network was voluntary. In the end, all she gained was a small measure of fame and intimate friendships with survivors. Ultimately, The Woman Who Wasn’t There forces us to examine our need for connection and purpose by any means necessary.