The Submission Paperback – 5 Jul 2012
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"Exceptional debut ... a tale of complexity and tension...Waldman's prose is almost always pitch-perfect ... The characters are wholly realised and believable as individuals, but they also stand in for stories and conflicts that go beyond their own lives." (Kamila Shamsie Guardian, Book of the Week)
"From this coup de théâtre Waldman skilfully spins out an ever-widening cast list...This is a deeply thoughtful and moving account of the myriad ways in which, when the towers came down, the US psyche became a casualty too." (Michael Prodger Financial Times)
"An absorbing, accomplished debut...an intelligent, satisfying read" (Sunday Times)
"The novel is punctuated with darkly comic details ... compelling ...Elegantly written and tightly plotted... [this] novel, at once lucid, illuminating and entertaining is a necessary gift." (Claire Messud New York Times Book Review)
"Panoramic in scope but thrillingly light on its feet ... A gripping, deeply intelligent novel" (Marie Claire)
"A masterful debut . . . Waldman unspools her story with the truth-bound grit of a seasoned journalist and the elegance of a born novelist." (Entertainment Weekly)
"Gripping, deeply intelligent . . . panoramic in scope but thrillingly light on its feet . . . [A] dazzling tapestry of a grieving city." (Marie Claire)
"Addictively readable...Not unlike The Wire's David Simon...Waldman has an eye for the less sound bite-worthy but crucial ways in which ideology and influence make their imprint on the world." (Vogue)
"The Submission reads as if the author had embraced Tom Wolfe's famous call for a new social realism...and in doing so has come up with a story that has more verisimilitude, more political resonance, and way more heart than Mr. Wolfe's own 1987 bestseller, The Bonfire of the Vanities." (The New York Times Book Review) --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
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There is a danger in topical books like this that the characters become just a vehicle for various sides of the debate; however, Waldman's excellent writing, sharp descriptions, and (for the most part) well-rounded characters made this a very enjoyable book.
I think one has to be in the right mood to read "The Submission" as sometimes all the arguments regarding religion, nationality, and allegiance, can be wearying to read or (as intended) provoke anger at the seemingly intractable factions within the USA. At other times, however, Waldman makes you sympathize unexpectedly with various unsympathetic characters, and causes you to feel frustrated at those who you know are in the right. I closed the book feeling stimulated, provoked, and rather sad.
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.......
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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