134 of 152 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Many Faces of Grief
A nation's tragedy brings out the best and the worst in its citizens. Amy Waldman places her story at the center of America's tragedy, two years after the devastation. A contest for a 9/11 memorial where the World Trade Center once stood brings to a boil all the simmering hurt and mistrust and fear about the future. What is it that causes this firestorm of media...
Published on July 1, 2011 by Someone Else
107 of 123 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Submission
Amy Waldman's first novel offices a scenario reminiscent of last year's Park51 debate, but with a twist that makes the issues involved even more explosive. Two years after the September 11th attacks, the New York City committee appointed to select the World Trade Center memorial design has made its selection from among hundreds of anonymous submissions. When the...
Published on July 15, 2011 by Brendan Moody
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134 of 152 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Many Faces of Grief,
A nation's tragedy brings out the best and the worst in its citizens. Amy Waldman places her story at the center of America's tragedy, two years after the devastation. A contest for a 9/11 memorial where the World Trade Center once stood brings to a boil all the simmering hurt and mistrust and fear about the future. What is it that causes this firestorm of media distortion and political posturing? What revelation leads to threats and accusations and even violence? Just a name. The name of the contest winner.
"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.
107 of 123 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Submission,
Amy Waldman's first novel offices a scenario reminiscent of last year's Park51 debate, but with a twist that makes the issues involved even more explosive. Two years after the September 11th attacks, the New York City committee appointed to select the World Trade Center memorial design has made its selection from among hundreds of anonymous submissions. When the envelope containing the designer's name is opened, he turns out to be a Muslim named Mohammad Khan. A media leak soon leads to a massive debate about Islam, grief, and art, with Khan and his design's greatest admirer, the 9/11 widow Claire Burwell, at its center.
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. However, their psychological processes and moral justifications (if any) remain mysterious. Only a single such journalist is included as a point-of-view character, and she is insufficiently well-drawn, appearing much nastier and less intelligent than Waldman seems to intend. Other secondary protagonists are likewise flat, their lives and dreams alluded to but never developing depth because of the forward rush of the predictable narrative.
Claire Burswell and Mo Khan are fuller characters, though Waldman's staid minimalist prose rarely allows her grief or his frustration with being a media obsession to achieve the intensity of real emotion. The novel's epilogue, freed from the ceaseless news cycle, has a grace and a forcefulness much greater than anything that has gone before. The characters have finally, if abruptly, gained wisdom, recognized the futility of their earlier behaviors. If they'd been able to make that leap a bit more quickly, The Submission would have been a stronger, more insightful novel.
48 of 56 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Elegant, intellectual, emotionally flat,
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A cerebral and often tedious exploration of clashing religious, philosophical and aesthetic principles, centering on the choice of a 9/11 memorial from proposals submitted anonymously. The winning entry, picked by a jury of which Claire Burwell, a 9/11 widow, serves as the moral center, ignites controversy when it turns out to be the product of a Muslim-American architect. Much intellectualizing is expended on the question of whether his memorial is a stealthy attempt to enshrine an Muslim victory on the site of a conquered people with his Islamic-inspired design which some see as "a garden of [Muslim] martyrs." He, Mohammad Khan, coldly and proudly refuses to explain himself or refute the accusations levied against him. A purist, he demands that his work stand on its own and his vision remain uncompromised by the client's wishes.
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.
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's probably not healthy to get this worked up over fiction,
Two years after an unnamed terrorist attack on New York, a jury has convened to choose a suitable memorial for the victims. The jury is comprised of artists, politicos, historians, a representative of the families who lost loved ones, clergy, and so forth. After reviewing and debating 5,000 anonymous designs, they have finally arrived at a selection. With excitement, they open the sealed envelope to see who the winning designer/architect is. His name is Mohammed Khan, an American citizen born and raised in Virginia. Cue the firestorm.
This debut novel was written by a former NYT bureau chief. Ms. Waldman provides intense scrutiny of America's attitudes towards terrorism, Muslims, immigrants, and prejudice from every imaginable angle and viewpoint, and her unflattering perceptions are painfully on target. As much as I wanted there to be a good guy in this tale, nobody comes out a winner.
The Submission is a hugely thought provoking read. (It would be terrific fodder for a serious book group.) Months after reading it, I'm still angry about the behavior of fictional Americans in an entirely fictional scenario. Waldman's got our number. Her depiction of what would happen given the premise above strode perfectly the boundary between reality and satire. And it was that subtle satirical edge, perhaps, that made the story all the more believable. Who hasn't turned on CNN and thought, "This can't possibly be happening?"
This is a novel entirely about America in the wake of 9/11, without ever once using the phrase "9/11." I actually read it on the tenth anniversary of the tragedy as my own small memorial to the memory of those lost. What it really reminded me of, however, is how much our society has lost in the decade since those terrible, terrible events. This book absolutely infuriated me, and I am confident it will stick with me for a very long time. And that is why it made my best books of the year list.
13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Submission To Our Deepest Fears,
Ten years have gone by since the Twin Towers came down on 9/11, and through those years, a wide array of talented fiction writers have attempted to make sense of that pivotal experience: Lynn Sharon Schwartz, John Updike, Jonathan Safron Foer, Claire Messud, to name just a few.
The brilliance of Amy Waldman's book is that she does not try to apply logic to why 9/11 occurred, nor does she attempt to recreate the complex and traumatic emotions that most Americans felt that day. Instead, she explores something broader: the fallout of a country confused, divided, and sick with fear, clamoring to make sense of the insensible.
The book begins with an ambiguous title: The Submission. On a concrete level, the submission refers to anonymous submissions by architects - in the best democratic tradition - who vie for the right to build an enduring memorial to Ground Zero. But read those words again, and the meaning is far deeper. Is Waldman referring to the submission of Muslims to Qur'an law, forcing them into outsider positions? Or is she writing of the submission of too many Americans to their deepest fears?
A little of all three interpretations exist, but it becomes increasingly evident that it is the latter that Amy Waldman is most interested in. The skeleton of the story is this: the winner of the submission is an American Muslim, Mohammad Khan, whose true religion is his vaulting ambition. (At a later point, Mo's lover will say to him, "Now I see that it was about you: your design, your reputation, your place in history.") Raised in the United States since birth, Mo (as he is universally called) has barely set foot in a mosque his entire life. His design - a garden - is comforting and soothing, particularly to the sole member of the selection jury who is also the widow of a 9/11 victim.
Once Mo's identity is leaked at the winner, the fervor begins. He is called, among other things, "decadent, abstinent, deviant, violent, insolent, abhorrent, aberrant, and typical." Amy Waldman, the former bureau chief of the New York Times, knows this territory intimately: the ambitious reporter who will do anything for a scoop (including defecting to the New York Post, which traffics in sensationalism), the equally ambitious governor who strives for reelection while inflaming public sentiment, the radio talk show host who plays into his audience's prejudices. Before too long, the garden is being depicted as an "Islamic victory garden", Mo is being called by his full name, and his loyalty to the U.S. is being questioned on all fronts.
Amy Waldman characters are nearly always fully realized: whether she's writing about Mo, Claire - the wealthy widow and key juror on the selection committee - or a seemingly bit player who is propelled to center stage, the Bangladeshi widow Asma, whose husband, an illegal immigrant, worked as a janitor and was killed in the attack.
Although the author's point of view is not hard to discern, to her credit, she reveals all sides and that is never clearer than during the scene when the public weighs in about the design. The question becomes: "What history do you want to write with this memorial?" Every side is represented, from the professor of Middle Eastern studies who states, "...Achieving that paradise through martyrdom - murder suicide - has become the obsession of Islamic extremists, the ultimate submission to God: to the author on Islamic gardens who asks, "Since when did we become so afraid of learning from other cultures?"
The pretentious artistic debates...the cynical political showboating...the tactical moves of special-interest groups...the media that fuels rumors rather than reports news - all are depicted here. My 5-star rating does not imply this is a literary masterpiece; it is, however, a well-written, thought-provoking, and nuanced book that will appeal to many different kinds of readers. With all the posturing, the truth is often found in just letting go. Or, as Mo eventually discovers, "He had forgotten himself, and this was the truest submission."
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fine novel about Islamophobia,
This review is from: The Submission (Kindle Edition)
In 2010 there was great controversy in the United States when the Muslim community proposed to build an Islamic centre near Ground Zero. Perhaps that episode was the inspiration for this book, published in 2011. It begins with a committee choosing, from an anonymous shortlist of two, a design for a memorial to the victims of 9/11. One of them has the theme of a Void; the other is a memorial Garden The members of the committee are divided - each group puts up a pretentious-sounding philosophical defence for their chosen design. At the end the Garden design wins by a majority - and they find that the name of the architect was Mohammad Khan. Consternation: though they know nothing about him, how would it look to the public (and to the likelihood of raising the money for the memorial) to commission the work from someone with an Islamic name? The members of the committee are divided about this.
Switch to the unpleasant experiences of Mohammad ("Mo") after 9/11 - the crude suspicion, his own struggle between his feeling of insecurity and his forced politeness on the one hand and his stifled rage on the other: he is a totally secular and unpolitical American citizen. The architectural firm for which he works had even sent him to Afghanistan to compete for the design of a new and more secure American Embassy, and he speculates why it had particularly chosen him for that task. But there are now dimensions to his image of himself which had never occurred to him before. He is more aware of being a Muslim; and Muslims back him until an unguarded remark he made about the Koran bring the rage of Muslim fanatics all over the world upon him.
We also get the back-stories of many other people: of members of the committee, like Paul, the banker-chairman of the committee, or Claire who had lost her husband on 9/11 and was on the jury to represent relatives of the bereaved families: initially she was the leading supporter on the committee for the Garden design. There are stories of other people who have lost relatives: an Irish-American family, and one of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
When the choice of a Muslim architect is leaked to the press, of course all hell breaks loose, first in the United States, and then globally. We meet new characters - those who whip up the campaign against the choice, the journalist and politicians who get in on the act: there is a particularly treacherous journalist and particularly opportunist state governor. Mohammad needs police protection.
There are demonstrations and counter-demonstrations. The original protagonists on each side are made uncomfortable by the vehemence of their supporters. The author has thought of every reasonable and every bigoted, every cool and every emotional argument on each side.
Someone discovers the importance of gardens in the Islamic world and suggests that this design might actually be a tribute to the Muslim terrorists who died in carrying out their attack on the Twin Towers. This suggestion makes the whole concept deeply divisive when the whole idea had been that it should be a united act of commemoration.
Some of Mohammad's backers - influential Muslims among them - waver, wanting hm to withdraw his submission. There is a particularly subtle portrait of Claire, as she begins to see both sides of the question, though the origin of this is not so much intellectual as her psychological uncertainty about what to think about Mohammad, who is too proud to make any statement about what his Garden "means" or publicly to give his opinion on 9/11. We have to wait for the fine final section of the book (which, incidentally and rather oddly, appears to be set in around 2023 and suggests that by then Islamophobia in the United States had died down) to discover whether Mohammad had made his submission to public opinion. (There should be no need to point out the irony that the word "Islam" literally means "submission".)
The book may be a trifle too long and some of the arguments repeated a little too often; but it is both very sophisticated and very readable.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Submission - for Bline Injustice,
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The Submission, by Amy Waldman, had a great plot and was extremely well written. The plot is that a group of elite judges are asked to judge the submittals for a 9/11 memorial two years after the attack. After the political haggling over the blind submissions, no names of the architects were attached to the designs, the panel picks a winner. When they open the envelope to see who the winner is, they realize that the winner is a Muslim.
The rest of the book then goes into the actions and the reactions from the victims' families, the mayor, the winner, the winner's family, the winner's place of employment, the journalist, the FOX news (?) caster, and a surprise - a widow of an illegal alien who was in the towers cleaning at the time. But the author managed to write each of the people's responses credibly so that you are going back and forth yourself as you see each side from all the various angles. You get to understand how some little thing done innocently gets taken out of context and blown out of proportion when people act from their emotions rather than from their reason. There are no heroes and no villains - just real people interacting.
And her writing style was extremely captivating. She used so many magical metaphors and included so many shards of wisdom in her text that you wanted to continue reading. Although this was her first novel, you could tell that she had written a great deal as a reporter for the New York Times and The Atlantic. After becoming intoxicated by her style, it was hard for me to appreciate the next book I picked up afterward.
18 of 26 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Too little...,
Didactic novels are tough. Unless they speak truths that no one has dared voice, or unless they present characters of such depth and originality that the characters transcend the limitations of the genre, they seem stale and dated even before the galley proofs are printed. Alas, The Submission is rather a timid pale book with rather timid pale characters. It has all the excitement of reading old newspapers.
The premise is that a committee selecting a design for a memorial commemorating 9/11 unknowingly, to everyone's horror, selects a design by someone with a Muslim name. I was very confused by the way Waldman handles this. The winning designer, Mohammed Khan, is a secularist, not a Muslim, but everyone in the novel regards him as a Muslim, and Waldman herself seems to consider him a Muslim. Really? Are you automatically a Muslim if you have a Muslim name? Of course, for that percentage of the population in the US that believes Obama is a Muslim, sure, but I would think Waldman's approach, at least, would be a little more sophisticated. And, clearly, there are questions of identity that could be usefully examined here, but Waldman largely ignores them. Waldman seems to implicitly criticize the formula that Muslim = terrorist, but isn't she just as lazy in her own thinking about what it means to be a Muslim? And it feels rather like cheating, writing a novel about the issues that arise when a Muslim becomes involved in a 9/11 memorial, but then making that character not really a Muslim.
She does address, rather indirectly, the pervasive anti-Muslim bias in the American media, but in the rather timid fashion she addresses everything else in The Submission. What are the roots of this bias? Is it just sheer racism? Pandering? I would love to see a no-holds-barred take down of the media here, some real passion, and I would think this would be a subject that Waldman would know a great deal about, but she certainly didn't tell me anything I didn't already know, and my insider knowledge of the workings of the media is pretty much non-existent.
I'd be much happier with this novel if Waldman had either made me want to join (or organize) a street demonstration, or if she had made me feel better informed about Western/Muslim interactions, but The Submission was simply too wishy-washy and mild on the one hand, and too short on hard facts on the other.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought Provoking Read,
This review is from: The Submission: A Novel (Paperback)
This fictional story is about some of the possible prejudices that America was left with after the horrible attack of 9/11. A monument is to be built for the victims where the World Trade Towers stood. The public is invited to submit proposals for the design and the winner is chosen anonymously. The successful design was a beautiful, serene garden, then the name of the designer is revealed and he was a model American from Muslim decent. His name was Mohammad Khan. The hysteria, whipped up by the newspapers, that this fact generates has devastating effects. It leads to soul searching for all parties, from family members of victims to the average Joe on the street.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I like to read books that make me contemplate what I would do. I was able to put myself in everyone’s shoes and understand why they felt the way they did. I also could appreciate each characters moral dilemma. Although the author may have felt she needed a huge cast of characters, I do feel that there were too many and they were not completely developed. Some were stereotypical. Also, the characters were sometimes called by different names (sometimes first name, sometimes last) and I found this very confusing.
Barring the few glitches mentioned about, this book is a riveting story for discussion with friends or just for self-contemplation.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Challenging Beliefs,
This is a novel that demands a lot of its readers. That's not to say Amy Waldman's The Submission is difficult or dull -- in fact, it's the polar opposite of both. What it is, though, is a novel that makes readers think; that asks readers to challenge long-held beliefs and ideas, no matter how firmly they think those ideas are held. Notions you may judge to be obvious, aren't. And ideas that may have seemed odious suddenly may not seem that way either. To me, it's one of the best kinds novel: A novel that feels perfectly in tune with how our society operates (for better and, mostly, worse), and that demands that you confront your own feelings and beliefs.
Enough with abstractions. Here's the deal: Two years after the attacks of 9/11, a jury convenes to select a design for the memorial to be built at Ground Zero. The jury selects (without knowledge of the designer, since the submission process was anonymous) a design for a beautiful garden with flowing canals and the victims' names written on the walls in the shapes of the twin towers. Most everyone's happy, until...envelope please...the designer is revealed to be a Muslim. Or at least he's a guy with a "Muslim name": Mohammed Kahn.
The public outcry is immediate. And furious. How could a Muslim be allowed to design an "Islamic paradise" to effectively memorialize the "jihadist martyrs," not the victims, right-wing conspiracy theorists ask? Obviously, not all Muslims are terrorists, you bigoted fools, say Mo's advocates. So why shouldn't Mo, an irreligious American architect, be allowed to build his design, since the design was judged the winner based on aesthetics, not politics or religion? But Muslims are responsible for 9/11, counters the opposition, so it'd be, at best, insensitive,and at worst, horribly insulting, to allow a Muslim designer to memorialize them.
This culture war is the basis of the novel, and the frenzy that follows is examined through the eyes of several New Yorkers -- including Mo himself, and Claire Burwell, a 9/11 widow who is the leading proponent of Mo's design. But both of these characters begin seeing themselves through the lens the increasingly polarized public sees them. They begin to question and doubt, to yield, especially in Mo's case, to others' (often stereotypical) visions of them.
A Bangledeshi immigrant who lost her husband in the attacks, a woman who runs an organization called Save America From Islam, a buffoonish right-wing talk show host, and a down-on-his-luck blue collar fella named Sean who lost his brother round out the cast of characters that give this novel a really complete feel. And the media circus (another character is a less-than-ethical journalist) and the political wrangling (the governor of New York has national ambitions and is constantly waiting to see which way the wind blows and maneuvering politically) feel spot on. As do the difficult questions the novel raises.
Are moral absolutes really absolute? Why is bigotry so wrong (and idiotic...and harmful)? Can art ever really be separated from artist? The readers must grapple, especially those of the conservative persuasion, at whom Waldman often takes aim.
Much like the politically charged environment portrayed, this novel itself was also divisive. It's the only book I've seen wind up on a "most overrated novel of the year" list, as well as several "best of the year" lists. I tend toward the latter -- perhaps not one of the best books I've read this year, but a very, very good one, nonetheless. Waldman (a former journalist) writes lucidly and knows her stuff -- whether architecture or the ins-and-outs of a newsroom. You trust her, even if her characters piss you off. This is highly recommended!
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The Submission: A Novel by Amy Waldman (Hardcover - August 16, 2011)