The Submission

Published: 2011
Author: Amy Waldman


An intelligent and thought-provoking look at America’s response to 9/11

The September 11th 2001 attacks have inspired a number of novels, films, plays and compositions from artists trying to make sense of a tragedy witnessed by the world. Some such as Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close have focused on how family members cope with their grief, others such as the Oliver Stone film World Trade Center look explicitly at the events of the day and its immediate aftermath. Debut novelist Amy Waldman’s The Submission has a wide-ranging scope and challenges perceptions and America’s response to the terrorist attacks.

Two years after the attack a committee comes together to decide on a suitable memorial at the site of the fallen towers. After a long and anonymous project a memorial garden design is chosen however when the designer is revealed to be an American Muslim it sparks a public debate about the winner’s suitability. Against the backdrop of public anger, family confusion and political opportunism the jury has to decide whether or not Mohammed Khan can continue to be crowned as the competition’s winner.

The brilliance of Waldman’s novel comes from her understanding that no character portrayed is entirely good or bad, instead she presents a cast of complex, vulnerable people who make mistakes, bad decisions and errors of judgment but even those characters who could be regarded as the antagonists aren’t entirely unsympathetic. Ironically given Waldman’s previous career as a journalist for the New York Times the least likeable character is the tabloid reporter who first breaks the story that a Muslim has won the competition.

We experience the emotions and feelings of a number of interested parties including the well-meaning but tactless retired financier heading the judging panel, the only relative on the judging panel, both pro and anti Muslim groups and of course the winning designer who finds himself thrown into a political storm that he neither wanted nor can control.

This is a novel with an ambitious scope and bravely honest exploration of a nation’s response to tragedy – both the good and bad responses. Waldeman has held a mirror up to her country and isn’t afraid to report back what she sees. This is an absorbing read which completely held my attention from beginning to end and offers genuine drama and an unexpected ending.

The Submission, longlisted for the 2012 Orange Prize for Fiction, has jumped straight to the top of my list of favourite books of the year and I would thoroughly recommend to anyone looking for an intelligent and gripping read.

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