Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Submission

The Submission, Amy Waldman’s debut novel, is a straight forward look at the raw emotion and political scheming generated by the mass murder that rocked this country on September 11, 2001.  The novel, set two years after that event, begins just as a jury is to vote on the design of a national memorial for the victims of the terrorist attack that claimed their lives.  Each of the designs has its backers, and the vote is a close one, but the jury unites behind its choice until the winner of their “blind vote” turns out to be an architect by the name of Mohammed Kahn.

Outrage, skepticism, and confusion quickly surface even within this jury composed of artists, prominent business people, a relative of one of the victims, and several politically influential citizens.  It helps little that Mohammed Kahn prefers to be called “Mo” or that he drifted away from his religion years earlier – his motivation for entering the contest and the influences on his winning design are going to be questioned.  Members of the jury hope to find a solution before the winner’s identity becomes public, but when Kahn’s name is leaked to the press, public outrage at the jury’s choice is immediate and loud.

The plot of The Submission is more concerned with how individuals respond to, and are impacted by, a situation like this one than with what the jury will ultimately decide to do about their Muslim winner.  Waldman tells the story primarily through the eyes of two main characters: Mohammed Kahn and Claire Burwell, a 9/11 widow with two small children to raise.  Burwell, who was the chief advocate for Kahn’s winning design before the jury members knew his identity, is initially his strongest and most vocal defender.  But when Kahn stubbornly refuses to answer the frank questions asked by the jury, she begins to doubt his avowed reason for having entered the competition.

Amy Waldman at Texas Book Festival 2011
Readers who have kept up with recent controversies such as the building of a “World Trade Center mosque” will not be much surprised by what Waldman has to say in The Submission.  They will have already heard from people in the real world like Kahn, Burwell, and Waldman’s cast of less developed characters that includes a ruthless newspaper reporter, wild-eyed talk show hosts, apologists who hold America responsible for the 9/11 slaughter of its citizens, and politicians milking America’s new found patriotism for personal gain.  Importantly, however, the book tells a good story that makes it easy for its readers to consider points of view they may otherwise have never taken into account.

My one disappointment with The Submission involves its rather contrived (and convenient) ending.  Because I do not want to spoil that ending for others, I will only say that, for me, the story’s resolution detracts from its realistic tone and lessens its emotional impact.  That said, I do recommend The Submission – particularly for discussion by book clubs- because it requires its readers to examine their own prejudices and thinking a little.

Rated at: 4.0

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