There have been many 9/11 novels in the past years approaching the tragedy from all kinds of contexts. Amy Waldman’s takes a direct approach with her forthcoming novel The Submission poking directly at the emotions stirred up by the rebuilding process.
Two years after the attack, a jury convenes to pick a winning design from hundreds of anonymous submissions for the memorial at Ground Zero. Although the jury is made up mostly of artists and critics, a wealthy chairman in it for the prestige leads the group. Also on the jury is widow Claire Burwell, whose husband died in the attacks.
As the representative for the victims’ families, Claire’s input carries significant weight and she champions a design called The Garden. Controversy arises when the anonymous winner is revealed to be American Muslim Mohammed “Mo” Khan, an ambitious architect known for his minimalist style.
The resulting predictable firestorm threatens to tear apart the nation. Politicians, journalists, activists, and the victims’ families all push their own agendas; xenophobia rises against Muslims and others. Meanwhile Mo refuses to withdraw his design nor to explain its meaning, which allows muck-raking journalists to cast it as an Islamic garden of paradise.
No one looks good here, but that makes it all the more real. Waldman handles the inner conflict of her panorama of characters with aplomb, and I found myself deeply uncomfortable at times especially reading the naked anti-Islamic diatribes, coming from characters I also sympathize with at the same time.
Grief can change one’s perspective, and Waldman brilliantly illustrates how the grief of a nation can take on new form.
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