This is the shocking story of Tania Head, who was the head of the World Trade Center Survivor’s Network for several years following it’s inception. If you have read the title of the book it wont come as a surprise to you that it turns out that she wasn’t there at all. It was, however, quite a shock to the members of the Survivor’s Network, and the friends she had made since it’s origination.
The story is set out chronologically, we start with 2001, and we’re told the story as it unfolded to the outside world. That is to say, that we’re told what Tania Head told everyone. Her story was that she was caught in the south tower when the plane hit, and was severely injured. Her husband had died in the north tower.
She was instrumental in setting up the World Trade Center Survivor’s Network and did lots of work promoting it, helping the people who really did survive the tragedy. She is charismatic and persuasive, and moved the Survivor’s Network into the media spotlight and is a big part of the reason why the mayor’s office, the government, the media and the people started to take their stress and grief as seriously as they did those who had lost a loved one in the attacks.
Head sounds like quite a troubled person. She went to a psychiatrist for treatment, and told her story repeatedly in meetings with them. She would have to tell lies on top of lies in order to keep her story going. This lifestyle seems very stressful to me, but psychology tells us of compulsive and pathological liars, and perhaps she was one of these. I am told that they are often very charismatic and she certainly seem to have been. We hear from the woman who because her best friend, and gain some insight into her character. She bullied her and took out a lot of her stress and strain on her. What an odd woman, I would love to meet her, and to try to understand what makes someone like that live a lie for so long.
The New York Times started asking questions here and there, trying to find proof that she worked for the company she said she did (she didn’t) and that the family of the man she said was her husband knew her (they didn’t). The other members of the Survivor’s Network found out, and they were profoundly shocked and upset. They felt torn – betrayed by this liar, but saddened to have lost a friend.
The co-author of the book, Angelo J Guglielmo Jr, is a film maker and was asked to make a documentary about the survivors. After the truth came out, he did some digging and found out who she really was. In making the film, he got to know Head well and in the book he discusses his feelings about one of the most interesting facets of this story; Head did some good things for the Survivor’s Network. She organized them, helped them, got them media exposure, made connections for them. Then she hurt them and made them feel violated – they had shared their deepest feelings with her and she had lied to them. What Guglielmo asks himself is, was she really a bad person? It’s a difficult one to answer, because, despite his best efforts, he couldn’t get her to tell her side of the story. Even if we’d heard it, though, could we have believed it?