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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars What's in a name?
In a competition to design a suitable memorial to the victims of 9/11, the jury members choose a garden. When the envelope is opened to reveal the identity of the architect, he turns out to be a Mohammad Khan, a name likely to inflame feelings in the jittery aftermath of the disaster. As the chairman stalls for time, the situation is leaked to the press, and a...
Published on 26 Oct 2011 by Antenna

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I liked it however...
Time Taken To read - 4 days

A competition to design a memorial for the victims of 9/11 is set and a jury to pick the winner. The anonymous design is by an architect called Mohammad Khan, behind closed doors the jurors argue over the impossibility of this man being allowed to design it. What follows is a lot of anger, distrust, hurt, hate, racism and...
Published 23 months ago by Lainy


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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars What's in a name?, 26 Oct 2011
By 
Antenna (UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Submission (Hardcover)
In a competition to design a suitable memorial to the victims of 9/11, the jury members choose a garden. When the envelope is opened to reveal the identity of the architect, he turns out to be a Mohammad Khan, a name likely to inflame feelings in the jittery aftermath of the disaster. As the chairman stalls for time, the situation is leaked to the press, and a media storm breaks. The real-life outcry over the plan to open a mosque near Ground Zero after this book was published shows the credibility and prescience of the theme.

In a tightly plotted tale, Amy Waldman introduces us to a large cast of characters representing a wide range of opinions, and develops their distinct personalities and motives with some skill. There is Claire, the rich and beautiful widow, not very representative of the other victims' families, who feels that the choice should stand on the basis of merit, and to ensure the fair operation of the system. Paul Rubin, the chairman, wants to persuade Khan to withdraw, so as to minimise trouble and safeguard his own reputation as a "safe pair of hands". Sean, the ne'er-do-well handyman whose brother's death has given him status and purpose to defend the memory of the firemen who perished at the Twin Towers, voices the widespread simple prejudice against any muslim involvement in the memorial. Governor Geraldine Bitman, who seems a caricature until one remembers Sarah Palin, wants to gain political advancement out of attacking Khan. In the other camp, the American muslim activist Issam Malik sees Khan's case as a source of publicity for his cause.

Issues are aired in ding-dong dialogues which often read like the script of an earnest play, presenting us with both sides of a range of arguments. Many assume the worst of Khan without knowing anything about him. In fact he is a sensitive man free from any fanaticism or subversive intent, but proves his own worst enemy in stubbornly insisting on his right to the award, whatever the cost. Then, he progresses to wanting the right not to explain himself to those who leap to thinking the worst of him.

Although I was gripped by the plot and unable to predict the end, Waldman's tendency to reveal her profession by drifting into jarring journalese proved a frequent source of irritation. Also, some of the final scenes in which people "shift sides" appeared a little rushed to me. I felt that the dramatic international scale storyline fizzles out as various characters vanish from the page, but at the very end, decided that the subtle ending is exactly right, with its focus on the failure of communication between two individuals who in many ways have much in common - both appreciate the beauty of a minimalist garden subject to Islamic influences which in turn draw on previous ideas of peace and harmony.

You realise at the end that the ambiguity of the title is also quite subtle. Life is not a simple question of winning or losing.......
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I liked it however..., 21 Aug 2012
By 
Lainy (Bonnie Scotland) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Submission (Hardcover)
Time Taken To read - 4 days

A competition to design a memorial for the victims of 9/11 is set and a jury to pick the winner. The anonymous design is by an architect called Mohammad Khan, behind closed doors the jurors argue over the impossibility of this man being allowed to design it. What follows is a lot of anger, distrust, hurt, hate, racism and arguments/debates over what is right morally and if the design should be allowed or even announced.

I loved the start of this book. It raised so many questions and an inner debate, if I was on that jury would I have a problem with it? Would I be suspicious? Or would I be outraged on Mohammad's behalf, an American being wronged because of his religion and his appearance. I didn't like how there wasn't a lot of background on the characters but I suppose it may have taken away from the subject matter but I would have liked to know more about Mohammad and what made him the way he was (and why he reacted as he did).

You read a lot of the characters opinions as the book goes on and the debate for and against it and also how Mohammad reacts to it all and his perception. To be honest, nearing the end I started to waver and get a little bored by it. The same issues kept going round and then the end seemed to jump a fair bit. I would have liked to have had more attention paid to the final outcome of the memorial and how it came about but felt it skimmed on that and started giving us a bit more on the characters when the whole book had been about the memorial and reactions rather than any kind of depth of the characters.

It is still a very interesting read, for the most part and it certainly makes you think (I even learned a little about a different religion). I think it would make for an excellent book group read as there is much to discuss and debate on. 3/5 for me this time and thanks to Waterstones Book Club for sending this my way.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Discuss, 2 Jan 2013
This review is from: The Submission (Kindle Edition)
Quite enjoyable but a bit like an edition of The Moral Maze- a conundrum explored at length but not much depth. In the end I think she just got bored.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "I think you're making a terrible mistake. I think even if you win, you will lose. We all will.", 16 Aug 2011
By 
Mary Whipple (New England) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Submission (Hardcover)
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
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Engages the head, but not the heart, 4 July 2012
By 
This review is from: The Submission (Hardcover)
Although I found this book quite readable and had no problem in finishing it, I'm afraid that it did not really grab me. The characters seemed to be too stereotypical to me, not well enough fleshed-out, and I found the general tone to be sanctimonious, too much like some sort of moral philosophy treatise. I felt that the style of it was too journalistic, rather like an extended feature in a colour supplement magazine, and I wanted the author's imagination to take flight and soar and really make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I never cared about any of the characters, and found the most interesting one by far to be Sean, the flawed brother of the dead firefighter, but he just sort of disappeared into the margins of the book. It seemed like the author is an 'issues' writer, and I wondered what she would write about next, but without any real curiosity. There is a column in the weekly magazine 'The Week' which is called 'Boring but Important', and I thought that this book fitted into that category.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pride and Prejudice, 15 Oct 2011
By 
P. G. Harris - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 1000 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Submission (Hardcover)
Claire Burwell's husband was killed in the September 11th terrorist attacks. Now, in 2003, she sits on a jury to select, from a list of blind submissions, a monument to commemorate the dead. As a representative of the families, sitting amongst professional architects, she successfully champions a design based on a garden. The selection seems peaceful, soothing, and then the envelope containing the architects name is opened. Mohammed Khan. It matters not that he is a thoroughly American professional, his selection unleashes a maelstrom which sets America against itself. Redneck vs liberal, WASP vs muslim, principle vs political pragmatism

Author and journalist, Amy Walden portays the impact of the decision on Claire, on the other families, on the architect Khan, on the Bangladeshi and wider Muslim community in New York, on the political and journalistic establishment and on US society at large.

Where the book really scores is in its lack of black and white, what Walden gives the reader is an infinite spectrum of shades of grey. There are no pristine heroes here and no (with one possible exception) real villains. The sympathy one has for Khan as a result of the prejudiced witchhunt to which he is subjected is tempered by his unbending pride. Does Claire go too far in her reaction to the pressure to which she is subjected or are her actions a perfectly understandable response to intolerable strain? Perhaps the closest to real villains are Walden's own fellow professional colleagues in the fourth estate, with a muck raking journalist catalysing the ultimate tragedy of the book. Also coming off badly are ambitious politicians placing pragmatism over principle.

While realistically exploring an intricate network of issues and themes, Walden doesn't lose sight of the need for narrative drive, and the novel is consequently effectively plotted with a satisfying deouement.

Finally I must comment on the brilliance of the title. It hovers over the top of the whole novel. Initially it simply describes the submission of Khan's design, but then it goes on to hang over every character, asking whether they will give in to the pressures under which they find themselves. Then sitting beneath this, and supporting the novel is the fact that submission to God is one of the translations of "Islam" into English.

Walden has delivered a book which totally believably portrays reactions of real people placed in a situation where the pressure is too much to bear. Thoroughly recommended.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Who really won this competition?, 15 Sep 2011
This review is from: The Submission (Hardcover)
The submission of the title of this fiercely intelligent novel is the winning entry to a competition to design a memorial on New York's 9/11 site. Entries have been made without the designers' names attached and the jury finds it has selected a non-practising but nevertheless Muslim architect. There are other types of submission in play here too: of individuals to groups, of wives to husbands, to the dictates of religion and so on.

This is the set-up from which Amy Waldman proceeds to examine pretty much every corner of the politics and personality of the democratic process, skewering liberal pieties and the angry howls of conservative reaction as she goes. The jury says it did what was asked of it, choose a winner. The families of the dead want nothing to do with a Muslim designer: isn't his proposed garden a martyrs' paradise? Politicians watch which way the wind blows.

The author has clothed her deconstruction of how democracy is (or isn't) served, and how the sensitivities of all parties to a difficult decision can (or can't) be reconciled, in the agonised introspections of key characters in the debate: the architect himself, the jury chairman, the families' nominated representative on the jury, the journalist (Waldman's own profession) whose quest for truth has increasingly momentous consequences, the widow of an illegal immigrant who stands outside the decision-making process until she decides otherwise. If you think you can see the mechanisms of power in operation a bit too clearly through the fictional skin, that is surely the point: the wielding of influence is rarely as subtle as the people doing it would like to pretend.

The book ends with a beautifully conceived and movingly executed coda in which the main characters' futures two decades after the fateful competition are revealed. I am writing this review at the half-way point between that fictional future and the attack on the Twin Towers, in the week of the tenth anniversary. An important book and a highly readable one. Prizes beckon, surely.
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22 of 27 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Topical, but ultimately disappointing..., 27 Sep 2011
By 
bloodsimple (nottingham, uk) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Submission (Hardcover)
This certainly wins top prize for topicality - a novel about a Muslim winning a competition to design a suitable memorial for the September 11th attack in New York. Waldman is an experienced journalist writing about a topical event and contemporary arguments - surely it's a winner?

Hmm. Not so fast. The set-up is great, and the opening few scenes promise much. But gradually, problems emerge. None of the characters seem to exist beyond their contribution to this event - there is little back story, hinterland of any depth, or sense of life beyond the competition or getting themselves on the media. Overall, there is too much concentration on the media aspect - yes, it's an important element, but yet again a journalist writing a novel goes for the self-referential context.

The male characters all choose from a smorgasborg of smug, politically disingenuous, pompous, a knuckle-dragging tendency towards violence, mendacious self-promotion, misogyny, and a predilection for viewing every woman in crude physical terms. The female characters, however, have different options; piety, manners, generosity of spirit, sacrifice, grace under pressure, integrity. All in all, the characters become a mish-mash of overly-simplistic tendencies. Waldman certainly can't write convincing male characters; her female characters aren't so great, either.

In addition, their reactions to almost anything are cartoonish. They leap immediately from a state of inertia to visceral hatred (usually racist, to boot) and calls for violence or ludicrous changes in public policy. This would work if they represented one strand of (presumably) Fox News-obsessed simpletons wrapped in the flag; but they don't. Waldman asserts that most of her characters (and by extension the nation) behave like this. If she's right, it's scary. But I don't think she is. I think she's resorted to some crude exaggeration to make a satirical point. In this respect it resembles Bonfire of the Vanities, but without that book's ironic wit.

And that's a shame. Because there are many nice elements to this book. There are a number of different facets to the debates presented in the book. But Waldman seems unwilling to alight on any of them for long - they exist, get everyone flustered for a few minutes, then she's leapt off to another strand of the argument. This leaves all aspects and all sides as a series of under-used vignettes, lacking structure, and not really building in a coherent way towards anything.

Ultimately, this is a bold attempt, and a much better novel about 9/11 than The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Netherland, or Falling Man. Not that those represented a particularly high bar to jump. However, it lacks coherence and shape; the narrative has no clear direction and no sense of building towards something insightful. The main characters are not drawn with enough nuance or depth to carry the storyline; many strands of argument are begun but never fully engaged; the second half of the book is particularly messy and lacks shape. Waldman perhaps should have alighted on a few aspects of the argument and driven us towards those, rather than try to cover everything at once with some fairly slight characterisation. As it is, much of what she attempts to impart through this story feels flimsy or repetitive, or both.

I don't doubt, however, that the chattering classes in Brooklyn and Hampstead will lap it up, and praise its' importance. Given the technical flaws in this book, it will be interesting to see what Waldman writes next.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Ambitious but falls short, 9 Sep 2013
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This review is from: The Submission (Kindle Edition)
Unique theme leaves the reader unfulfilled due to numerous often disconnected sub-plots and shallow character
settings. Cannot deny the scale and reach of the subject area but one is left questioning ambition versus ability to deliver.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Submission, 20 Aug 2013
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This review is from: The Submission (Paperback)
The book gives quite an interesting "what if" look at the idea of a Muslim offering a design for a 9/11 monument in New York. I had not realised that there is so large a Bangladeshi community in NY - having lived for many years among Bengalis in London's East End. Book quite well researched but it did not 'grab' me as much as I was expecting. Could not get really interested in the main characters. But a good try. 2 cheers
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