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Who really won this competition?,
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.