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The Submission


The Submission

September 11th is no mere recollection in the minds of Americans, especially those who still suffer from the many losses of that day --- the loss of family members and loved ones, friends, jobs, livelihoods, dreams, the future. The events of that day in 2001, as we have seen recently during the 10th-anniversary memorials, writ quite large in both private and public lives. Amy Waldman, former co-chief of the South Asia Bureau of The New York Times and a national correspondent for The Atlantic, has fashioned a first novel on top of this tragedy: a story about a Muslim architect who wins a contest to design a memorial at Ground Zero. Waldman makes a very smashing debut with THE SUBMISSION.

"THE SUBMISSION feels like a finely wrought piece of art, each sentence, each scene so completely and expertly rendered that you can’t stop reading it, no matter how painful you may find the proceedings."

Without a trace of cheap sentiment and heartstring-pulling, Waldman doesn’t edge into the tough part of the topic of 9/11 and its aftermath. She cannonballs in with a scene in which several of the main characters are arguing over the appropriate memorial design for the six acres where the Trade Center once stood. There is Claire, the grieving widow, who is there to represent the wishes and outlook of the families whose loved ones died in the tragedy. There is Paul, the head of the committee tasked with choosing the proper design for the memorial. There are angry artists who want to make an artistic statement (the favorite design of theirs being the two gigantic granite slabs that would be engraved with the names of the dead, but far out of reach of the average visitor). There is the memory of Claire’s husband, Cal, and their children, who live with his changing legacy every day. Then there is the man, the architect, whose artistic vision is chosen for the design. But he is a Muslim, and the controversies that his cultural background brings to the table engage the reader in a gripping and soul-stirring conversation about what it means to be American, to be an artist, to honor the dead, and to care for the living.

Claire is a great character; I love how Waldman has managed to build into her story not only conversations about honoring the dead from the attacks, but also about the obtuse nature of art and the need for art to help in the grieving process. She also handily contemplates the push and pull of motherhood vs. personhood, and the scenes with her children will have a special resonance for the working moms who chose to stay at home with their children and put burgeoning careers on hold. Claire is at once Everywoman and a very private and multidimensional character we rarely get to see in books of this caliber.

THE SUBMISSION feels like a finely wrought piece of art, each sentence, each scene so completely and expertly rendered that you can’t stop reading it, no matter how painful you may find the proceedings. Waldman is no hack journalist --- her every word rings with poetry and yet has none of the pretensions of some poetic writers. Instead, the poetry of her language strengthens our sense of the world in which these characters are living. Even though it is a world in which we find ourselves even today (the plot takes place two years after the event and then flashbacks once again to the horrible day itself), readers will feel as if this place has never been quite as well explained to them before. Waldman concocts a serious story that incorporates so many visceral details about that period that even teens who were too young to remember all the details of that day could find something familiar and inevitable about it all.

THE SUBMISSION is not a book about warfare, but about war --- waged on the homefront, using art as the true mirror of our fears, sadness and future plans. It is a book that beautifully puts together a literary tale that will become part of your feelings and considerations about that awful time and its aftermath, a time we’ve all shared. Waldman is a talented writer, and her debut novel will become a touchstone for conversations about this strange decade since the event for the length of the life of our dented and chameleonic nation.

Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on September 15, 2011

The Submission
by Amy Waldman

  • Publication Date: August 16, 2011
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • ISBN-10: 0374271569
  • ISBN-13: 9780374271565