By Amy Waldman
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Hardcover, 9780374271565, 320pp.)
Publication Date: August 16, 2011
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Entertainment Weekly's Favorite Novel of 2011
Esquire's 2011 Book of the Year
A New York Times Notable Book for 2011
A Washington Post Notable Fiction Book for 2011
One of NPR's 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 winner's 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 country's.
The memorial's 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 Waldman's 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.
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. The Submission is her first novel.
Amy Waldman's new novel, The Submission, centers on an anonymous competition to pick the design for a Sept. 11 memorial at ground zero â�� and the furor that erupts when it's revealed that the winning designer is an American Muslim. More at NPR.org
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Nervy and absorbing . . . A story that has more verisimilitude, more political resonance and way more heart than The Bonfire of the Vanities . . . Writing in limber, detailed prose, Ms. Waldman has created a choral novel with a big historical backdrop and pointillist emotional detail, a novel that gives the reader a visceral understanding of how New York City and the country at large reacted to 9/11, and how that terrible day affected some Americans' attitudes toward Muslims and immigrants . . . Ms. Waldman does an affecting job of showing how people who have lost relatives in the terrorist attack are trying to grapple with their own confusion and conflicting emotions, even as they find themselves caught up in a political conflagration. Indeed, it is Ms. Waldman's ability to depict their grief and anger . . . that lends this novel its extraordinary emotional ballast.
Elegantly written and tightly plotted . . . With the keen and expert eye of an excellent journalist, Waldman provides telling portraits of all the drama's major players, deftly exposing their foibles and their mutual manipulations. And she has a sense of humor: the novel is punctuated with darkly comic details [which] would seem richly satirical were it not for the fact that they so closely reflect reality . . . In these unnerving times, in which Waldman has seen facts take the shape of her fiction, a historian's novel at once lucid, illuminating and entertaining is a necessary and valuable gift.
Moving . . . Eloquent . . . A coherent, timely and fascinating examination of a grieving America's relationship with itself. Waldman . . . excels at involving the reader in vibrant dialogues in which the level of the debate is high and the consequences significant . . . In presenting us with a world that is recognizably our own, despite her tweaking of one of its variables, the author subverts the central dictum of alternate history: namely, that the single historical switch should precipitate multiple and major consequences. Instead, brilliantly, Waldman gives us back our own world.
Masterful . . . [A] scathing, dazzlingly crafted indictment of the messes people make when they mistake ideology for morality and bigotry for patriotism . . . Waldman, an ex-New York Times bureau chief, unspools her story with the truth-bound grit of a seasoned journalist and the elegance of a born novelist.
Propulsive and thoughtful . . . [A] smart and sensitive work of fiction.
Devastating . . . An excellent debut novel . . . The Submission is an exceedingly accomplished novel. The pacing, dialogue, characters and plot are absorbing from the start. Waldman populates her work with a dozen realistic characters.
A novel whose time has come . . . [Amy Waldman's] debut novel is a sharp work with complex characters and an unflinching skepticism about human motivation. Waldman recognizes the tragedy of 9/11 without indulging in sentimentality . . . Much of the power in Waldman's writing comes from her ability to gradually reveal layer upon layer of her characters' circumstances, creating a continual sense of enlightenment as the story progresses.
[A] gripping, deeply intelligent novel . . . Panoramic in scope but thrillingly light on its feet . . . Waldman does a masterful job of getting into the heads of New Yorkers . . . [A] dazzling tapestry of a grieving city.
Waldman, a former South Asia bureau co-chief for the Times, has antennae well tuned to the media circus. Perhaps it's her reporter's skill that makes her so nimble at sketching in characters; she's a penetrating psychologist, especially for a first novelist. She weaves together a half-dozen stories, from the top to the bottom of New York's social strata, and keeps them moving briskly forward; you never want to stop reading.
In her magnetizing first novel, replete with searing insights and exquisite metaphors, Waldman, formerly a New York Times reporter and co-chief of the South Asia bureau, maps shadowy psychological terrain and a vast social minefield as conflicted men and women confront life-and-death moral quandaries within the glare and din of a media carnival. Waldman brilliantly delineates the legacy of 9/11; the confluence of art, religion, and politics; the plexus between the individual and the group; and the glory of transcendent empathy in The Bonfire of the Vanities for our time.
[An] emotionally and politically rich novel . . . The Submission raises wrenching post-9/11 questions about what it means to be an American . . . [Waldman's] novel transcends ideological politics.
Fascinating . . . Brilliant . . . The genius of Waldman's novel is that it captures the manner in which a member of a group that has become part of an ideological tussle will often come to be stripped of his humanity and viewed as a symbol . . . A searing personal saga.
[The Submission] accomplishes the rare feat of being prescient after the fact, a counterfactual novel that turns out to be accurate in all the details that matter . . . [Waldman is] as convincing in an apartment full of Bangladeshi immigrants as she is among the martini-quaffing suits in midtown . . . A New Yorker might well read The Submission before bed and wake up the next morning believing it actually happened.
Addictively readable . . . A frank exposé of American bigotry--and a nuanced examination of the way in which a national tragedy brings out the best and worst in its citizens . . . Not unlike The Wire's David Simon, Waldman, a former New York Times South Asia bureau chief, has an eye for the less sound bite-worthy but crucial ways in which ideology and influence make their imprint on the world . . . as well as the ability to dramatize how the abstract choices made by elites in a conference room have unfathomable repercussions for others with narrower options.
Waldman boldly re-imagines an eerily realistic alternate history of the years after 9/11 . . . [The Submission] refracts with uncanny insight the public ambitions and private pain that have shaped us, showing us ourselves with rueful grace . . . With a reporter's keen eye for how stories spin and are spun, Waldman dramatizes the press's machinations as perhaps only a journalist could.
[A] provocative and smartly conceived book.
[A] poised and commanding debut novel . . . A remarkably assured portrait of how a populace grows maddened and confused when ideology trumps empathy. A stellar debut. Waldman's book reflects a much-needed understanding of American paranoia in the post-9/11 world.
Amy Waldman's The Submission is a wrenching panoramic novel about the politics of grief in the wake of 9/11. From the aeries of municipal government and social power, to the wolf-pack cynicism of the press, to the everyday lives of the most invisible of illegal immigrants and all the families that were left behind, Waldman captures a wildly diverse city wrestling with itself in the face of a shared trauma like no other in its history.
Waldman fluidly blends her reporter's skill . . . at rapid-fire storytelling with a novelist's gift for nuanced characterization. She dares readers to confront their own complicated prejudices steeped in faith, culture, and class. This is an insightful, courageous, heartbreaking work that should be read, discussed, then read again.
Amy Waldman writes like a possessed angel. She also has the emotional smarts to write a story about Islam in America that fearlessly lasers through all our hallucinatory politics with elegant concision. This is no dull and worthy saga; it's a literary breakthrough that reads fast and breaks your heart.
Frighteningly plausible and tightly wound . . . Waldman addresses with a refreshing frankness thorny moral questions and ethical ironies without resorting to breathless hyperbole.