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And Then the War Came: An Accidental Memoir, David Wyatt

Author's Career

While David Wyatt has an allusive Internet presence, some biographically relevant information can be found on the University of Maryland profile page and in his memoir.  He received his Ph. D. from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1975.  In 1998, he is named the University of Maryland Distinguished Scholar-Teacher.  This coming quite recently after the publication of his first book, Five Fires:  Race, Catastrophe, and the Shaping of California, in 1997.  David Wyatt clearly incorporates his interests in American Literature, Film Studies, and Cultural Studies in his memoir.  The work contains not only a great deal of intertextuality—referencing both Spiegelman and Susan Sontag, along with countless film and snippets of the daily news—but eloquent quotes from his colleagues and his own thoughtful analyses of his day-to-day experience of 9/11 and its aftermath.  And Then the War Came:  An Accidental Memoir is Wyatt’s second book, published on September 11th, 2004 (UW Press).  Wyatt has published two books since the memoir:  Secret Histories:  Reading Twentieth Century American Literature in 2010, When America Turned:  Reckoning with 1968 in 2014.  In addition to his critical works and the memoir, Wyatt has published several articles and has contributed to the Virginia Quarterly Review since 1976 (VQR Online). 

Publication History

And Then the War Came was published on September 11th, 2004, by the Terrace Books division of the University of Wisconsin Press.  It only appears in English.  The text referenced is the first and only edition of the work, and it is only available in hardcover.

Reception History

Reviews of David Wyatt's work appears on Amazon.com, GoodReads.com, and on the Terrace Books/University of Wisconsin website.  With the exception of the publisher-driven reviews, all of the available reviews are from the general public.  The majority of reviewers were men, and not a single reviewer form GoodReads or Amazon came from a New York resident.  This illustrates the idea that a 9/11 novel is not simply a New York novel, and according to the reviewers, it should be a novel that addresses the ordinary, non-politicized, non-heroic citizen.

On Amazon, five out of five reviewers gave the memoir five out of five stars.  Four out of five reviews were written within a few months of the book's release.  The fifth review came in 2010.  A thread ran through the reviews.  The memoir is described as being written by a "common citizen," with "honesty," and things such as "understatedness" and the un-heroic are praised.  The reviews also set up this dichotomy between "politicized 9/11" and "human reality."  This division rejects the idea that 9/11 is an untangleable experience of mediation, political action, and tragedy.  Deep down, these reviews say, 9/11 is about reality, and what it means to be a human living in reality.

"The greatest compliment I can give a book is that the writing is honest, because only with honesty can truth be gleaned" (L. S. Chin)

"in fact, its understatedness refuses to smack its reader over the head with sentimentality or political agenda, as is so often the case" (Rita Chin)

"Wyatt has gotten below the slick surface of the politicized 9/11 to the human reality below. Well done!" (Butchart)

"It is not a tale of the heroic. It is not a politically motivated diatribe dripping with hatred" (Matlock)

These reviews give credence--at least in the popular sphere--to the idea that 9/11 pushed the public past irony.  Not only do they praise a memoir, but they praise the memoir without any suspicion of the author.  It is taken at face value and enjoyed thoroughly.

GoodReads did not have any written reviews available, but it did have a breakdown of rankings.  Five people (3 men, 2 women) rated the book and two people (1 man, 1 woman) marked the book as 'to read.'  The ratings on GoodReads came later than those on Amazon, spanning from 2007-2013--with the exception of the 2010 Amazon review--come three to nine years after the memoir's publication.

These reviews are also less favorable.  One reviewer gave it a score of 4/5, and the other four reviewers gave it a score of 3/5.  Interestingly, it seems that the "honest," un-heroic memoir became less appealing as readers got farther from the event itself.  Of course, without written reviews, one cannot get a sense of the tone readers took towards the work, so the reversion to or repression of irony in a post-9/11 reading populace cannot be compared.  However, it is important to note, "100% of people liked it."  'Liking' the memoir and finding it to be a great work of 9/11 journalism are two very different things.

The Editorial Reviews found on Amazon, but originally published on the back of the book and on the Terrace Books page, give the perspectives of three published authors--two male and one female.  These reviews give the reader similar impressions of Wyatt's memoir; ideas of "humanity" and the "human, domestic level" are very much present here.  Although there is not the celebration of the citizen while cursing the political (a rather fraught position), the authors mark out the domestic and the political as operating in different spheres.

"David Wyatt focuses our attention on the ripple effects of a stone tossed into a pond—a private pond, and a public pond" (Beattie)

"Instinctively finding moments in which people are revealed for their true essence, Wyatt places the September 11 events on a human, domestic level" (Bouldrey)

"There will be much journalism and historical commentary about September 11—but none can possibly match the emotional dimensions, the bewildered humanity, the day-to-day feel of things" (Norman)

This last comment, by Norman, brings a fresh perspective to the function of a memoir.  A memoir can also be considered journalism and/or a piece of historical commentary.  This idea, that one represents history on a small scale, could give us some insight into why the favorable reviews praised Wyatt's honesty--without an "honest" recounting, history cannot be constructed.


Works Cited

"And the War Came: An Accidental Memoir [Hardcover]." And the War Came: An Accidental Memoir: David Wyatt: 9780299201708: Amazon.com: Books. Amazon, n.d. Web. 21 Apr. 2014. <http://www.amazon.com/And-War-Came-Accidental-Memoir/dp/product-description/0299201708/ref%3Ddp_proddesc_0?ie=UTF8&n=283155&s=books>.

"And the War Came: An Accidental Memoir." English Department, University of Maryland. University of Maryland, n.d. Web. 21 Apr. 2014. <http://www.english.umd.edu/bookshelf/1421>.

"And the War Came." Goodreads. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Apr. 2014. <https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1427200.And_the_War_Came?from_search=true#other_reviews>.

"David Wyatt." Welcome to VQR Online. The Virginia Quarterly Review, n.d. Web. 21 Apr. 2014. <http://www.vqronline.org/people/david-wyatt>.

"David Wyatt." Wyatt, David. University of Maryland, n.d. Web. 21 Apr. 2014. <http://www.english.umd.edu/profiles/dwyatt>. "Five Fires: Race, Catastrophe, and the Shaping of California." English Department, University of Maryland. University of Maryland, n.d. Web. 21 Apr. 2014. <http://www.english.umd.edu/bookshelf/1475>.

"Secret Histories: Reading Twentieth Century American Literature." English Department, University of Maryland. University of Maryland, n.d. Web. 21 Apr. 2014. <http://www.english.umd.edu/bookshelf/2031>.

"UW Press - : And the War Came: An Accidental Memoir, David Wyatt." UW Press - : And the War Came: An Accidental Memoir, David Wyatt. The University of Wisconsin Press, 01 Sept. 2004. Web. 21 Apr. 2014. <http://uwpress.wisc.edu/books/2666.htm>.

Wyatt, David. And the War Came: An Accidental Memoir. Madison, WI: U of Wisconsin, Terrace, 2004. Print.