four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
55-Nov-Dec-2011
By: 
Amy Waldman
user_rating: 
0

A-The SubmissionFormer New York Times reporter Amy Waldman's fiction has appeared in the Atlantic and Boston Review. This is her debut novel.

The Story: After reviewing thousands of anonymous submissions, a carefully handpicked committee selects a garden-themed design for a new 9/11 Ground Zero memorial and soon discovers, to its dismay, that the winner is Muslim-American architect Mohammed "Mo" Khan. Claire Burwell, the wealthy and sophisticated 9/11 widow appointed to represent the victims' families, champions "The Garden" and its creator, but the committee's decision sends a shockwave through New York City after ruthless New York Post reporter Alyssa Spier, eager to advance her career, deliberately baits and misrepresents Mo in print. Soon rallies are organized; public hearings are scheduled; pundits on both sides of the debate spew inflammatory rhetoric; and violence erupts throughout the nation.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 320 pages. $26. ISBN: 9780374271565

Cleveland Plain Dealer 4 of 5 Stars
"The Submission is an exceedingly accomplished novel. The pacing, dialogue, characters and plot are absorbing from the start." Anne Trubek

Minneapolis Star Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"Anybody who's followed the heated debate over the so-called Ground Zero mosque knows the territory covered by Amy Waldman's propulsive and thoughtful debut novel, The Submission. ... Although Waldman works to be representative, she doesn't place her characters into neat ideological boxes." Mark Athitakis

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Elegantly written and tightly plotted, The Submission ultimately remains a novel about the unfolding of a dramatic situation--a historian's novel--rather than a novel that explores the human condition with any profundity. And yet in these unnerving times, in which Waldman has seen facts take the shape of her fiction, a historian's novel at once lucid, illuminating and entertaining is a necessary and valuable gift." Claire Messud

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"The Submission engages us in a broader political conversation, outlining fictional events of national significance that one could easily imagine taking place. ... To spend time with these diverse characters and see how their individual experiences and group loyalties, ambitions and heartaches affect American democracy is satisfying--the novel stages a political debate in a way that's neither preachy nor overly clever." Polly Rosenwaike

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"It is a mark of Waldman's skill that she marshals these disparate forces in the service of a coherent, timely and fascinating examination of a grieving America's relationship with itself. [She] excels at involving the reader in vibrant dialogues in which the level of the debate is high and the consequences significant." Chris Cleave

New York Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Although the evolution of Claire's thinking about the memorial may not make that much sense to the reader--this and the cartoony portrait of Alyssa are the novel's two big flaws--Ms. Waldman does an affecting job of showing how people who have lost relatives in the terrorist attack are trying to grapple with their own confusion and conflicting emotions, even as they find themselves caught up in a political conflagration. Indeed, it is Ms. Waldman's ability to depict their grief and anger--as well as Mo's dream of creating a beautiful memorial, and his subsequent disillusion--that lends this novel its extraordinary emotional ballast." Michiko Kakutani

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Debut novelist Amy Waldman seizes on this [national reaction to anything Islamic] in her provocative and smartly conceived book with its ambivalent title. ... Ms. Waldman concludes the novel with an epilogue that too neatly sums up the fate of her major characters, but I think its true fault is that it delivers key information ... that readers needed early on." Bob Hoover

Critical Summary

The Submission deftly captures the national mood and its precarious relationship with Islam as Americans mark the tragedy's 10th anniversary. The critics unanimously praised this intelligent and self-assured debut, partly because of Waldman's refusal to take sides in the debate. She is sympathetic to the moral complexities of each of her characters, with the telling exception of Alyssa. A former reporter, Waldman is mindful of the role that the media plays in shaping public opinion, and she skewers its bias and sensationalism. As the conflict spills out across political, theological, and cultural battlefields, what emerges from this provocative and riveting novel--an important addition to our collective 9/11 bookshelf--is a timely message of tolerance and what it truly means to be American.

Cited by the Critics

"Many literary novelists feel the need to wrestle with Sept. 11," notes the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Below we've listed some of the critics' favorites.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close | Jonathan Safran Foer (2005): In this largely epistolary novel, precocious nine-year-old Oskar Schell explores New York City in search of the meaning behind a mysterious key hidden in a vase that belonged to his father, who died in the World Trade Center. ( 3 of 5 Stars July/Aug 2005)

Saturday | Ian McEwan (2005): In the course of a day in 2003, middle-aged London neurosurgeon Henry Perowne contemplates the quotidian pleasures and disappointments of family life when a shocking act of violence disrupts his day. ( 4 of 5 Stars Selection May/June 2005)

The Zero | Jess Walter (2006): Award Star National Book Award finalist, 2006. Less than a week after 9/11, New York City cop Brian Remy, recovering from an accidentally self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, takes a job with the enigmatic Office of Liberty and Recovery and finds himself embroiled in an ominous government conspiracy.