Written by New York Times columnist/bureau chief Amy Waldron, The Submission posits a series of "what ifs" and then lets the turmoil unfold. In the aftermath of 9/11, with hundreds of families trying to cope with the magnitude of their loss and the entire country trying to cope with their loss of innocence, a competition is held to design the memorial which will be constructed at Ground Zero. Representatives to the selection committee are chosen from all levels of society, including a woman who has lost her husband in the attack, and their task is to choose the best design from all of the "blind" submissions. In the final tumultuous voting between two completely different designs, Claire Burwell, the woman widowed by the attack, favors the design of a garden, a place of peace and contemplation. Other committee members are swayed by Ariana, a famed sculptor, who favors a stark, monumental creation called "The Void," which Claire finds cold. As the debate rages, and the two women try to persuade their fellow committee members, the emotional reaction to The Garden, as advocated by Claire, prevails. When the envelope naming the architect is opened, they discover that they have chosen Mohammad Khan, an American, to design their memorial.
From here the novel takes off. Questions arise as to whether not to release the architect's name; whether his win can be "finessed" on the grounds that he could be considered "unsuitable," a loophole included in the terms of the selection; whether this is an insult which will inflame the already devastated families; whether the architect's religion should even be an issue; and how this will affect the Muslim population of the country, which is already dealing with negative aftereffects of the attack. Lines are drawn when a newspaper reporter reveals the results, with the predictable outcry and development of community groups to lobby for and against the choice, heavily weighted against Khan.
Though the arguments are developed thoroughly along philosophical and moral lines, and are not simply hot-headed reactions, the resulting tumult will strike a chord with readers--the passionate, real-life arguments for and against the proposed building of a mosque near Ground Zero in recent years make these arguments sound quite familiar. What makes this novel different, and often quite moving, is that it personalizes these arguments as we are drawn into the everyday lives of those who have been forever changed by the attack, as they make their points of view understandable, even when they are patently "un-American." The novel moves quickly, as Waldman sets up her conflicts, which are often aggravated by the ever-present press corps. Petty politics are equally repulsive, and the tendency of politicians to keep their eye on the next election, rather than what is right, rears its ugly head throughout. So, too, does the violence committed by hot-heads who have no insight into real issues.
As the story plays out, the author provides an insight into the future, describing the lives of the people in the novel a few years hence. Ultimately, Claire says it all: "So many more Americans ended up dying in the wars the attack prompted than in the attack itself that by the time they finished this memorial it seemed wrong to have expended so much effort and money. But it's almost like we fight over what we can't settle in real life through these symbols. They're our nation's afterlife." Mary Whipple