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The Submission: A Novel Hardcover – August 16, 2011
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Amazon Best Books of the Month, August 2011: Amy Waldman has performed a rare and dangerous feat in writing an airtight, multi-viewed, highly readable post-9/11 novel. When a Muslim architect wins a blind contest to design a Ground Zero Memorial, a city of eleven million people takes notice. Waldman, a former bureau chief for the New York Times, explores a diversity of viewpoints around this fictional event, bringing in politicians, businessmen, journalists, activists, and normal people whose lives--whether by happenstance, choice, or even due to their country of origin--get caught up in the controversy. Incredibly, she manages to keep all the balls in the air without ever fumbling. The story is moving and keeps the pages turning, but there are also bigger themes at work: of individuals versus groups; about the purpose of art, commerce, government, and journalism in society; of how people respond to grief and terror. The result is honest, compelling, and breathtaking.--Chris Schluep
“Nervy and absorbing . . . A story that has more verisimilitude, more political resonance and way more heart than The Bonfire of the Vanities . . . Writing in limber, detailed prose, Ms. Waldman has created a choral novel with a big historical backdrop and pointillist emotional detail, a novel that gives the reader a visceral understanding of how New York City and the country at large reacted to 9/11, and how that terrible day affected some Americans' attitudes toward Muslims and immigrants . . . 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 . . . that lends this novel its extraordinary emotional ballast.” ―Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“Elegantly written and tightly plotted . . . With the keen and expert eye of an excellent journalist, Waldman provides telling portraits of all the drama's major players, deftly exposing their foibles and their mutual manipulations. And she has a sense of humor: the novel is punctuated with darkly comic details [which] would seem richly satirical were it not for the fact that they so closely reflect reality . . . 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, The New York Times Book Review
“Moving . . . Eloquent . . . A coherent, timely and fascinating examination of a grieving America's relationship with itself. Waldman . . . excels at involving the reader in vibrant dialogues in which the level of the debate is high and the consequences significant . . . In presenting us with a world that is recognizably our own, despite her tweaking of one of its variables, the author subverts the central dictum of alternate history: namely, that the single historical switch should precipitate multiple and major consequences. Instead, brilliantly, Waldman gives us back our own world.” ―Chris Cleave, The Washington Post
“Masterful . . . [A] scathing, dazzlingly crafted indictment of the messes people make when they mistake ideology for morality and bigotry for patriotism . . . Waldman, an ex-New York Times bureau chief, unspools her story with the truth-bound grit of a seasoned journalist and the elegance of a born novelist.” ―Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly
“Propulsive and thoughtful . . . [A] smart and sensitive work of fiction.” ―Mark Athitakis, Star-Tribune (Minneapolis)
“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.” ―Anne Trubek, The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)
“A novel whose time has come . . . [Amy Waldman's] debut novel is a sharp work with complex characters and an unflinching skepticism about human motivation. Waldman recognizes the tragedy of 9/11 without indulging in sentimentality . . . Much of the power in Waldman's writing comes from her ability to gradually reveal layer upon layer of her characters' circumstances, creating a continual sense of enlightenment as the story progresses.” ―M.L. Johnson, Associated Press
“[A] gripping, deeply intelligent novel . . . Panoramic in scope but thrillingly light on its feet . . . Waldman does a masterful job of getting into the heads of New Yorkers . . . [A] dazzling tapestry of a grieving city.” ―Kimberly Cutter, Marie Claire
“Waldman, a former South Asia bureau co-chief for the Times, has antennae well tuned to the media circus. Perhaps it's her reporter's skill that makes her so nimble at sketching in characters; she's a penetrating psychologist, especially for a first novelist. She weaves together a half-dozen stories, from the top to the bottom of New York's social strata, and keeps them moving briskly forward; you never want to stop reading.” ―Craig Seligman, Bloomberg News
“In her magnetizing first novel, replete with searing insights and exquisite metaphors, Waldman, formerly a New York Times reporter and co-chief of the South Asia bureau, 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. Waldman brilliantly delineates the legacy of 9/11; the confluence of art, religion, and politics; the plexus between the individual and the group; and the glory of transcendent empathy in The Bonfire of the Vanities for our time.” ―Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)
“[An] emotionally and politically rich novel . . . The Submission raises wrenching post-9/11 questions about what it means to be an American . . . [Waldman's] novel transcends ideological politics.” ―Bob Minzesheimer, USA Today
“Fascinating . . . Brilliant . . . The genius of Waldman's novel is that it captures the manner in which a member of a group that has become part of an ideological tussle will often come to be stripped of his humanity and viewed as a symbol . . . A searing personal saga.” ―Rayyan Al-Shawaf, New York Press
“[The Submission] accomplishes the rare feat of being prescient after the fact, a counterfactual novel that turns out to be accurate in all the details that matter . . . [Waldman is] as convincing in an apartment full of Bangladeshi immigrants as she is among the martini-quaffing suits in midtown . . . A New Yorker might well read The Submission before bed and wake up the next morning believing it actually happened.” ―Jess Row, New York
“Addictively readable . . . A frank exposé of American bigotry--and a nuanced examination of the way in which a national tragedy brings out the best and worst in its citizens . . . Not unlike The Wire's David Simon, Waldman, a former New York Times South Asia bureau chief, has an eye for the less sound bite–worthy but crucial ways in which ideology and influence make their imprint on the world . . . as well as the ability to dramatize how the abstract choices made by elites in a conference room have unfathomable repercussions for others with narrower options.” ―Megan O'Grady, Vogue
“Waldman boldly re-imagines an eerily realistic alternate history of the years after 9/11 . . . [The Submission] refracts with uncanny insight the public ambitions and private pain that have shaped us, showing us ourselves with rueful grace . . . With a reporter's keen eye for how stories spin and are spun, Waldman dramatizes the press's machinations as perhaps only a journalist could.” ―Tess Taylor, Barnes & Noble Review
“[A] provocative and smartly conceived book.” ―Bob Hoover, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“[A] poised and commanding debut novel . . . A remarkably assured portrait of how a populace grows maddened and confused when ideology trumps empathy. A stellar debut. Waldman's book reflects a much-needed understanding of American paranoia in the post-9/11 world.” ―Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“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.” ―Richard Price, author of Freedomland and Lush Life
“Waldman fluidly blends her reporter's skill . . . at rapid-fire storytelling with a novelist's gift for nuanced characterization. She dares readers to confront their own complicated prejudices steeped in faith, culture, and class. This is an insightful, courageous, heartbreaking work that should be read, discussed, then read again.” ―Sally Bissell, Library Journal (starred review)
“Amy Waldman writes like a possessed angel. She also has the emotional smarts to write a story about Islam in America that fearlessly lasers through all our hallucinatory politics with elegant concision. This is no dull and worthy saga; it's a literary breakthrough that reads fast and breaks your heart.” ―Lorraine Adams, author of Harbor and The Room and the Chair
“Frighteningly plausible and tightly wound . . . Waldman addresses with a refreshing frankness thorny moral questions and ethical ironies without resorting to breathless hyperbole.” ―Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Amazon's editors selected this title as a Best Book of the Month. See our current Editors' Picks.
More About the Author
She has been a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study and at the American Academy in Berlin. Her fiction has appeared in the Boston Review and the Atlantic, and was anthologized in The Best American Non-Required Reading 2010. She lives with her family in Brooklyn.
The Submission is her first novel. Her website is www.thesubmissionnovel.com
Top Customer Reviews
"Mo" is as American as can be. He's an architect, born and raised in Virginia. His immigrant parents proudly gave him the name of a beloved prophet. Never would they have imagined that a few decades later that name would become like poison to many Americans. "Mo" is Mohammad Khan. A Muslim name. Suddenly his design, "The Garden," becomes suspect, and the selection committee backpedals on its decision.
This story felt so real that it sometimes made my heart ache for my country, my world, my species. How easily we let ourselves be distracted, led away from the harmony we say we want. When the media and special interest groups push our buttons, they can make us forget why we've come together and what we hoped to accomplish. The voices of reason and reconciliation are often the most gentle and the hardest to hear amid the din of controversy.
It's challenging to give a plausible ending to a novel with real-life parallels. This book poses more questions than it answers, which is as it should be. Given the complexity of the issues, I think Waldman found a strong and believable finish. Our hope for the younger generations is powerful. Those who are too young to remember September 11, 2001 and its aftermath may be our best chance for a balanced perspective and, ultimately, for healing.
The evolving sequence of events Waldman, a former reporter for The New York Times, describes is plausible enough, and full of details that have the ring of truth. But the issues raised and the views expressed are so familiar from the Park51 brouhaha and other aspects of the national discourse about Islam that it's difficult to escape the feeling one has read all this before. There are no real surprises in the way things play out, and the ignorant difficulty many characters have in thinking clearly about Islam, while true to life, makes for frustrating reading. Ultimately the novel fails to offer a new or surprising perspective on Islam, the September 11th attacks, or any other relevant topic, and feels more like a journalistic variation on real events than a story with guiding themes of its own.
Nor does it illuminate the personalities involved in its fictional debate enough to generate greater understanding of those involved in actual ones. Waldman demonstrates an awareness that politicans, journalists, activists, and commentators manipulate events like this not out of any great interest in outcomes, but to further their own ends.Read more ›
The central problem with the novel is its lack of believable emotion. I never got a full sense of Claire Burwell's husband as a vivid, particular character; thus I could not share her grief or that of her children. The real moral center of the novel is Asma Anwar, a Bangladeshi illegal immigrant whose husband, Inam, also died in the towers on 9/11. Her tragedy as it plays out is affecting but not deeply moving because even she is treated at a remove in this novel that is much more preoccupied with ideas than characters. Waldman often veers into stereotypes: the unscrupulous NY Post reporter, the muddle-minded, failure-haunted brother of a firefighter who died on 9/11,the anti-Islam-agitator housewife, and the Rush Limbaugh-like talk show shock jock. Even Claire and the late Cal Burwell come across as stereotypes: impeccably tasteful, emotionally repressed, hyperprivileged WASPs.
Overall, admirable for its literary elegance, but ultimately cold, overly intellectual and unsatisfying.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
A very thought provoking read I Highly recommend. A story with endless layers on a subject which is still so current.Published 7 days ago by Gail Roney
While the plot was interesting and full of twists, I thought the characters were drawn to fit the story, and as such were not real people, at least to me. Read morePublished 15 days ago by Dorit Paul
Is “research novel” a genre? It shouldn’t be; the term sounds disparaging, as if the author has used some sort of trick to goose sales and written something... Read more
Gets bogged down in the middle, but really a novel to make you stop and think. I love looking at an event from many viewpoints and either change how I think or as in most cases... Read morePublished 3 months ago by Jeanne Hanson
The idea was really good but in a way the book looses itself on the way. Too many words, too many stories intertwined, and in the end what really mattered (to me of course) was not... Read morePublished 3 months ago by Gonza
Couldn't put it down. I love gardens and architecture. This story is about lives, ego, courage, racism...... And of course the fear of the unknown. Read morePublished 3 months ago by Luz Gomez Romero
The Submission is a fascinating study in a "what if" situation that tears apart complex political decisions. The characters are deep and interesting..Published 3 months ago by Greer
It's one of the best books I've read this year. Set within the familiar post 9/11 trauma, the dilemma of a Muslim, albeit an American, winning the design contest of what... Read morePublished 3 months ago by Gigi