Angelo Gugliemo isn’t just the co-author of The Woman Who Wasn’t There, along with Robin Gaby Fisher. He’s one of the people whose lives were twisted around, hearts wrung out, and their 9/11 experience exploited by the woman known as Tania Head. Tania was the president of the board of the World Trade Center Survivors’ Network and, with her tragic story of surviving the collapse of the south tower but losing her husband (fiancé? husband? his description varied) in the north tower, striking a deep chord with fellow survivors and the world in general. She was one of the faces of 9/11, a woman struggling with loss but striving to help others heal. An inspiration to many, she was a sometimes a trial to others, lashing out, demanding undivided attention, and ruling the Survivors’ Network with an iron fist. She had deeply devoted friends, including Guglielmo, a filmmaker, all of whom were dedicated to protecting Tania from further suffering.
Tania’s story, however, was all a lie. She wasn’t in the south tower. She wasn’t even in the United States on 9/11. She wasn’t engaged to, or married to, the man named Dave who died in the north tower. She wasn’t even named Tania (her real name was Alicia Esteve Head). She’d made it all up.
Fisher and Guglielmo’s book tells Tania’s story the way he and her friends experienced it. It begins with her harrowing escape from the south tower, as their friendships began with hearing her tale. It continues with her increased involvement in survivor activities, and it describes the new bonds formed, and sometimes shattered, as Tania struggled to maintain her grip on the Survivors’ Network and retain her place in the spotlight. The book ends with Guglielmo’s stark, heartbroken realization of how he’d and so many others had been manipulated, and how cold and calculating a person he’d once thought of as gentle and compassionate truly was. His bitterness is more than justified, and his disappointment is palpable.
While the prose isn’t exactly polished or lyrical, this is a compelling story, with all the horror of a car crash you can’t turn away from. I would have liked to know more about the people, the survivors, who knew “Tania” and whose lives had been so adversely affected by her lies, and how they have moved on. As a reader, you certainly hope they have been able to do so.