Synopses & Reviews
Entertainment Weeklys Favorite Novel of 2011 Esquires 2011 Book of the Year
A New York Times Notable Book for 2011A Washington Post Notable Fiction Book for 2011One of NPRs 10 Best Novels of 2011
Ten years after 9/11, a dazzling, kaleidoscopic novel reimagines its aftermath
A jury gathers in Manhattan to select a memorial for the victims of a devastating terrorist attack. Their fraught deliberations complete, the jurors open the envelope containing the anonymous winners name—and discover he is an American Muslim. Instantly they are cast into roiling debate about the claims of grief, the ambiguities of art, and the meaning of Islam. Their conflicted response is only a preamble to the countrys.
The memorials designer is an enigmatic, ambitious architect named Mohammad Khan. His fiercest defender on the jury is its sole widow, the self-possessed and mediagenic Claire Burwell. But when the news of his selection leaks to the press, she finds herself under pressure from outraged family members and in collision with hungry journalists, wary activists, opportunistic politicians, fellow jurors, and Khan himself—as unknowable as he is gifted. In the fight for both advantage and their ideals, all will bring the emotional weight of their own histories to bear on the urgent question of how to remember, and understand, a national tragedy.
In this deeply humane novel, the breadth of Amy Waldmans cast of characters is matched by her startling ability to conjure their perspectives. A striking portrait of a fractured city striving to make itself whole, The Submission is a piercing and resonant novel by an important new talent.
"Waldman imagines a toxic brew of bigotry in conflict with idealism in this frighteningly plausible and tightly wound account of what might happen if a Muslim architect had won a contest to design a memorial at the World Trade Center site. Jury member and 9/11 widow Claire Burwell presses for the winning garden design both before and after its creator is revealed as Mohammed 'Mo' Khan, an American-born and raised architect who becomes embroiled in the growing furor between those who see the garden as a symbol of tolerance and peace, and various activists who claim patriotism as they spew anti-Islamic diatribes. Waldman keenly focuses on political and social variables, including an opportunistic governor who abets the outbreak of xenophobia; the wealthy chairman of the contest, maneuvering for social cachet; a group of zealots whose obsession with radical Islam foments violence; a beautiful Iranian-American lawyer who becomes Mo's lover until he refuses to become a mouthpiece; and a trouble-sowing tabloid reporter. Meanwhile, Mo refuses to demean himself by explaining the source of his design, seen by some as an Islamic martyr's paradise. As misguided outrage flows from all corners, Waldman addresses with a refreshing frankness thorny moral questions and ethical ironies without resorting to breathless hyperbole. True, there are more blowhards than heroes, but that just makes it all the more real. (Aug.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Claire Harwell hasn’t settled into grief; events haven’t let her. Cool, eloquent, raising two fatherless children, Claire has emerged as the most visible of the widows who became a potent political force in the aftermath of the catastrophe. She longs for her husband, but she has found her mission: she sits on a jury charged with selecting a fitting memorial for the victims of the attack.
Of the thousands of anonymous submissions that she and her fellow jurors examine, one transfixes Claire: a garden on whose walls the names of the dead are inscribed. But when the winning envelope is opened, they find the designer is Mohammad Khan—Mo—an enigmatic Muslim-American who, it seems, feels no need to represent anyone’s beliefs except his own. When the design and its creator are leaked, a media firestorm erupts, and Claire finds herself trying to balance principles against emotions amid escalating tensions about the place of Islam in America.
A remarkably bold and ambitious debut, The Submission is peopled with journalists, activists, mourners, and bureaucrats who struggle for advantage and fight for their ideals. In this deeply humane novel, the breadth of Amy Waldman’s cast of characters is matched by her startling ability to conjure individual lives from their own points of view. A striking portrait of a city—and a country—fractured by old hatreds and new struggles, The Submission is a major novel by an important new talent.
A New York Times Book Review Notable Book of the Year
An Entertainment Weekly Best Novel of the Year
An NPR Top Ten Novel of the Year
A Washington Post Notable Book of the Year
Esquire Book of the YearA jury chooses a memorial for the victims of a devastating terrorist attack on Manhattan, only to learn that the anonymous designer is an American Muslim -- an enigmatic architect named Mohammad Khan. His selection reverberates across a divided, traumatized country and, more intimately, through individual lives. Claire Burwell, the sole widow on the jury, becomes Khan's fiercest defender. But when the news of his selection becomes public, she comes under pressure from outraged family members and into collision with hungry journalists, opportunistic politicians, and even Khan himself. A story of clashing convictions and emotions, and a cunning satire of political ideals, The Submission is a resonant novel for our times.
About the Author
Amy Waldman was co-chief of the South Asia bureau of The New York Times. Her fiction has appeared in The Atlantic and the Boston Review and is anthologized in The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2010. She lives with her family in Brooklyn. This is her first novel.
Reading Group Guide
1. What do you think the purpose and message of a national memorial should be? Would you have voted for the Void or the Garden?
2. Reread the epigraph. What do its words suggest about the relationship between nature and human nature?
3. As Claire tries to explain the tragedy to William (and, in a way, to Penelope), what does she discover about her own beliefs and feelings?
4. Mo is under considerable pressure to give the “right” reasons when asked why he entered the competition, but he defies simplistic answers. What does his design communicate on its own? For any creative work—including novels—should the authors biography matter to us? Do you think he was obligated to explain himself and his design? Why or why not?
5. Chapter 16 begins with a depiction of Mos hunger and thirst during Ramadan. Were told, “The truth was he didnt know why he was doing it.” How does it affect him, a secular skeptic, to join Muslims worldwide in observing the fast?
6. How did your reactions shift as Seans story unfolded, especially as he struggled with conflicting feelings after pulling Zahiras scarf? Is bigotry excusable if its coming from someone whose loved one was the victim of a horrific crime? What are the limits of a survivors rights?
7. Asmas memories of Inam are her private inheritance, and she must rely on translators to convey her messages in English. Did anyone in the novel have a truly accurate understanding of her suffering? How was her mourning experience different from Claires and Seans? What common emotions do all of the novels survivors share?
8. Many of the characters desperately want someone to blame for their loss. The final line of chapter 22, referring to Alyssa, reads, “She is responsible.” Ultimately, who is responsible for the tragedies depicted in the novel?
9. What would you have done in Paul Rubins situation? Was it courageous or insensitive of him to permit Mos submission to move forward?
10. A journalist, Amy Waldman had special insight into Alyssas world. What does the novel tell us about the role of the media (exploited by all parties involved) and the impact of a free press in the information age?
11. How does Claires sense of self change when Jack reappears in her life? Did Cal, despite his wealth, cost her an important part of her identity?
12. Discuss the novels title. To what (and to whom) must the characters submit? Who are the novels most and least submissive characters?
13. An uproar erupted in 2010 when Park51, a community center housing a mosque, was proposed for construction two blocks from Ground Zero. What does this conflict—and the one described in The Submission—suggest about how 9/11 might have transformed American society? (Note: Amy Waldman began writing The Submission several years before Park51 was announced.)
14. What makes fiction a powerful way to explore events that shaped our lives? What can a novel achieve that journalism and testimonials cant?
15. In the final “dialogue” between Claire and Mo, orchestrated by Molly and William, is anything resolved? What does the closing image of a cairn show us about the heart of the novel, and the role of future generations in resolving history?
Guide written by Amy Clements / The Wordshop, Inc.