Summary and book reviews of The Submission by Amy Waldman

The Submission

A Novel

by Amy Waldman

The Submission
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2011, 528 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2012, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Jennifer Dawson Oakes

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About this Book

Book Summary

Ten years after 9/11, a dazzling, kaleidoscopic novel reimagines its aftermath and wonders what would happen if a Muslim-American was blindly chosen to plan the World Trade Center Memorial.

Claire Harwell hasn't settled into grief; events haven't let her. Cool, eloquent, raising two fatherless children, Claire has emerged as the most visible of the widows who became a potent political force in the aftermath of the catastrophe. She longs for her husband, but she has found her mission: she sits on a jury charged with selecting a fitting memorial for the victims of the attack.

Of the thousands of anonymous submissions that she and her fellow jurors examine, one transfixes Claire: a garden on whose walls the names of the dead are inscribed. But when the winning envelope is opened, they find the designer is Mohammad Khan - Mo - an enigmatic Muslim-American who, it seems, feels no need to represent anyone's beliefs except his own. When the design and its creator are leaked, a media firestorm erupts, and Claire finds herself trying to balance principles against emotions amid escalating tensions about the place of Islam in America.

A remarkably bold and ambitious debut, The Submission is peopled with journalists, activists, mourners, and bureaucrats who struggle for advantage and fight for their ideals. In this deeply humane novel, the breadth of Amy Waldman's cast of characters is matched by her startling ability to conjure individual lives from their own points of view. A striking portrait of a city - and a country - fractured by old hatreds and new struggles, The Submission is a major novel by an important new talent.

The Submission
1

"The names," Claire said. "What about the names?"

"They're a record, not a gesture," the sculptor replied. Ariana's words brought nods from the other artists, the critic, and the two purveyors of public art arrayed along the dining table, united beneath her sway. She was the jury's most famous figure, its dominant personality, Claire's biggest problem.

Ariana had seated herself at the head of the table, as if she were presiding. For the previous four months they had deliberated at a table that had no head, being round. It was in an office suite high above the gouged earth, and there the other jurors had deferred to the widow's desire to sit with her back to the window, so that the charnel ground below was only a gray blur when Claire walked to her chair. But tonight the jury was gathered, for its last arguments, at Gracie Mansion's long table. Ariana, without consultation or, it appeared, compunction, had taken pride of place, giving notice of her intent to prevail.

"The ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. What do you think the purpose and message of a national memorial should be? Would you have voted for the Void or the Garden?


  2. Reread the epigraph. What do its words suggest about the relationship between nature and human nature?


  3. As Claire tries to explain the tragedy to William (and, in a way, to Penelope), what does she discover about her own beliefs and feelings?


  4. Mo is under considerable pressure to give the "right" reasons when asked why he entered the competition, but he defies simplistic answers. What does his design communicate on its own? For any creative work - including novels - should the author's biography matter to us? Do you think he was obligated to explain himself and his design? Why or why not?


  5. Chapter...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Waldman has created something I really love when reading fiction - unreliable narrators. Several main characters - Claire Burwell, Mo Khan, and Sean Gallagher - dig their heels in, waver, reevaluate themselves and others, and cause rippling consequences.... [T]hrough her gifted prose and fully realized characters, [Waldman] has created a very powerful reading experience.   (Reviewed by Jennifer Dawson Oakes).

Full Review Members Only (844 words).

Media Reviews

The New York Times

Nervy and absorbing... A story that has more verisimilitude, more political resonance and way more heart than The Bonfire of the Vanities.

New York Times Book Review

Elegantly written and tightly plotted... a historian's novel at once lucid, illuminating and entertaining is a necessary and valuable gift.

The Washington Post

Moving... Eloquent... A coherent, timely and fascinating examination of a grieving America's relationship with itself.

Cleveland Plain Dealer

Devastating... An excellent debut novel... The Submission is an exceedingly accomplished novel. The pacing, dialogue, characters and plot are absorbing from the start. Waldman populates her work with a dozen realistic characters.

Library Journal

Waldman's tale unfolds in fluid, accessible language, and the issues raised here will deeply engage readers.

Booklist

In her magnetizing first novel, replete with searing insights and exquisite metaphors, Waldman... maps shadowy psychological terrain and a vast social minefield as conflicted men and women confront life-and-death moral quandaries within the glare and din of a media carnival.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. The selection of a Muslim architect for a 9/11 memorial stirs a media circus in Waldman's poised and commanding debut novel.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. ...Waldman addresses with a refreshing frankness thorny moral questions and ethical ironies without resorting to breathless hyperbole.

Author Blurb Richard Price, author of Freedomland and Lush Life
Amy Waldman's The Submission is a wrenching panoramic novel about the politics of grief in the wake of 9/11. From the aeries of municipal government and social power, to the wolf-pack cynicism of the press, to the everyday lives of the most invisible of illegal immigrants and all the families that were left behind, Waldman captures a wildly diverse city wrestling with itself in the face of a shared trauma like no other in its history.

Reader Reviews

jane

Well written but biased in her viewpoint in many subtle ways
The book was well written but skewed to make Muslims and Islam the only real victims. There are subtle innuendos that seem biased against others, especially Christians, in that most were depicted as insensitive and unknowledgeable. I could not help...   Read More

avid

Didn't feel real
This was a well-written book that I want to give 5 stars to. Something about it just didn't work for me, though. I have a sense that the outrage over the selection of a Muslim to design a 9/11 memorial just would not play out the way it is depicted...   Read More

Diane S.

The Submission by Amy Waldman
I recently saw the movie The Help and just finished reading The Dry Grass of August and was feeling very relieved that the 50's and the KKK were over. Than I read this book and realized that fear and hatred is never over. It just changes focus. A ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

National 9/11 Memorial & Museum

World Trade Center lightsThe search for the World Trade Center Memorial design, which is now being built where the Twin Towers once stood, began in 2003. While honoring those who lost their lives on September 11, 2001, the memorial also pays tribute to the seven people killed and thousands injured in the WTC attack on February 26, 1993. Memorializing these 3,000+ people, the national monument incorporates the victims' names at the very center of its structure.

In total, 5,201 designs were received, and 62 countries were represented by the submissions. The selection committee - a jury of thirteen people - included architects (for example, Maya Lin, the designer of the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial in Washington, DC), artists, political representatives, curators, ...

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