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The Submission: A Novel Hardcover – August 16, 2011
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"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise. Learn more
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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)
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The novel looks at the reaction to this event from many different perspectives -- those of politicos, those of relatives of the 9/11 victims, those of American Muslims of several different stripes, and those of the architect himself. Some of the motivations are a little vague, and some of the characters a little flat, but the author has rejected the temptation (with her major characters, at least) to provide characterization in lieu of characters. Some reviewers have noted that it is hard to like any of the characters very much, but I did get more and more interested in them as the novel proceeded -- particularly in the character of the architect.
Some of the difficulty in liking the characters may be because this is in large part a novel of ideas, rather than a novel of characters pure and simple. The characters aren't simple, and the issues are still very much alive. In a recent exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York on New York Activism, the last section was devoted to post 9/11 anti-Muslim and pro-Muslim activism. It is only too clear that the issue has not yet been resolved.
This novel is about the submission for a memorial to 9/11 and the committee that chooses the memorial. The committee solicits submissions from architects and then proceeds to pick the best representation of all that 9/11 stood for. Suffice to say, the choice of the architect is controversial and creates discussion around prejudices and perceptions. I found this to be an interesting read that challenged my thinking. Perhaps the characters were painted with a wide brush--a bit stereotypical at times? Maybe. I found the primary committee member compelling and interesting as she struggled through her choice and tried to do the right thing. It's not always easy to do the right thing and who even knows what the "right" thing is when talking about 9/11? Do any of us know? Questions like this made me appreciate this read.
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