It isn’t easy sometimes to write a book review about a book that has had a huge impact on the way you think and what you believe in. Very few books manage to achieve that and The Submission by Amy Waldman did just that for me.
The premise of the book is simple on the surface: It has been two years after the 9/11 attacks. There is a contest for a 9/11 memorial where the World Trade Center once stood tall, bringing with it all the thoughts, fears and anger of NY citizens to surface. The contest submissions are made. The winner is “Mo”, a regular American architect, born and raised in Virginia. There is one slight setback. Mo is short for Mohammed Khan – son of immigrant parents and that is where the problems start to arise, but of course.
The contest jury consists of Claire – the wealthy widow whose husband died in the attacks, and a key juror at that. She is pro for Mohammed and at the same time doesn’t understand why she cannot be more assertive when the media and general public makes too much of Mo’s selection. On the other hand there is Asma, the Bangladeshi widow whose husband, an illegal immigrant, worked as a janitor in the building and was killed.
There is the side of the press hounding on the story and wanting to take advantage of the “scoop”. There is the side of the general public in the form of the Gallagher family who lost their son in the attacks.
Amy Waldman writes with a sort of detachment that is needed for a topic as sensitive as this. For me, there was a point when I choked on certain passages, but that was because of the intensity of the subject matter and the writing.
The novel is extremely strong in its depiction of no solution to this matter in the real world. The title does not just refer to the submission of the design and the contest. It goes deep. For instance, Mo’s submission or not to the decisions made, Claire’s submission to some members of the jury and most of all, the submission of public to fear or not. The book is not always about religion and culture, it also veers to art. What is the importance of art in our society? Even if it represents memory. What place does it deserve?
The Submission is written with reality that will not allow you to forget it that easily. There is no ploy or gimmick here. The reader succumbs to the book because it strikes a chord somewhere. Amy Waldman takes no sides while writing the book. She is as neutral as neutral can be. The Submission made me see different points of view. The emotion of course is that of an outsider if you have not faced the situation, however one can connect to it because of the strong writing and dialogue that comes across and makes readers think way after the book has ended.
Here are some of my favourite quotes from the book:
“Nothing in life gets dropped without someone else having to pick it up.”
“Jealousy clings to love’s underside like bats to a bridge.”
“Sorrow can be a bully”