Seattle Reads 2012: The Submission by Amy Waldman
Posted by: Misha Stone
The Submission has garnered much praise in the past year and was named as Esquire’s Book of the Year. Here is what Esquire had to say:
I have no idea how Amy Waldman came to write her first novel, The Submission (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26), which is about the contested aftermath of an epoch-defining attack on New York City by Muslim terrorists. I imagine that the title must have come to Waldman before the novel did, or rather, that when the title came to Waldman — the former co-chief of The New York Times South Asia bureau — she knew she had her novel, from beginning to end. It is rare that a title can be said to contain a novel, especially when the novel in question can be said to contain a world and a time. But if you want to know why you should read The Submission, and why it is not only the best of the many excellent “9/11 novels” but also the most straightforwardly enjoyable, you have to start with the title, because it easily bears the weight of at least four meanings, because in being lightly ironic yet endlessly suggestive, it provides the model for Waldman’s prose, and because it is only the first of the many promises that The Submission manages to keep.
The Submission, you see, is about a submission — an entry in a competition — and it is also about submission, in just about every sense of the word. The plot is simple and, in terms of today’s headlines, plausible enough: There is a competition to determine who will design the memorial for the mass-murdered in Manhattan, and the winning submission is from an American architect born into a faith whose name also means “submission.” As a nonbeliever, he calls himself “Mo,” but his given name is Mohammad, and before the novel ends he will submit in the subtlest way possible to its dictates, for The Submission is a novel in which every character submits to something: to heroism, to cowardice, to self-interest, to self-promotion, to class, to grief, to innocence, to prejudice, to pride, to art, to religion, and especially to what the beleaguered Mo thinks of as “the bellicose, lachrymose religion that the attack had birthed,” that is, the new religion of 9/11.
The Submission is not a religious novel but rather a secular one that takes religion very seriously. It is not a political novel but rather a novel about the ongoing redefinition of the place where politics starts. It is a novel of large public concern, and yet what it suggests is that over the last decade “the public” in America has just become an excuse for “the private” to hold sway — for people to submit to impulses they didn’t know they had. It is a portrait of a country almost terrifyingly free and at the same time endlessly involved in the task its title describes: either trying to get up off its knees or fall down to them. —TOM JUNOD
The Submission will provide a heated set of discussion topics as it explores the multitude of reactions when a 9/11 memorial at the site of the Twin Towers attack is granted to a Muslim American architect. I, for one, can’t wait to discuss this one with my book group and other community groups. It’s perfect election year material.