Book Review: The Submission by Amy Waldman
June 16, 2012 22 Comments
Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Number of pages: 388
First published: 2011
I got this book: bought it myself
Genre: contemporary fiction
I have heard a lot about this book and read the first chapters in Dutch. Then when it was my birthday and I was browsing the book shops, I saw this book (in English) and discovered that it was published by one of my favorite publishers, Windmill books in the UK. So, I decided to buy this book (rather than one of the other wonderful books on my shortlist) and I wasn’t disappointed.
The Submission: What it is about
An architectural competition is held in New York for a memorial for 9/11. At the beginning of the book, two designs are still in the running, but a bit of lobbying from the representative of the families of the victims turns the cards in favor of a geometric walled garden. When they open the envelop with the name of the architect, it turns out the winner has a Arabic-sounding name: a muslim!
Now what to do? Of course, a winner is a winner! But… what will the American people say about this? It turns out: a lot! Many people protest and try to convince the jury to choose another design.
The winning architect is a secular muslim who isn’t at all concerned with religion. He is an American in the first place and everything else comes second. When he’s asked to withdraw his design he refuses, as his is a legitimate entry and he has all the right in the world to take part. He doesn’t want to share information about his background and about his own feelings about the 9/11 attack, because other winners would not have been asked, either.
So, what now? Several people, such as the brother of a victim and the illegal immigrant wife of another victim ask to have their views heard. They play an important role in the eventual solution of the problem.
The Submission: What I thought
I very much enjoyed reading this book. The story was put together well, and I liked it how the author (via the characters in the book) kept coming up with new arguments for or against using the winning design. It wasn’t all that clear cut as I had imagined so I was impressed by the creativity of the author to come up with all kinds of points of view.
I also loved what the book did with me: on the one hand, I was appalled that a brilliant American architect was asked to withdraw because he’s a muslim. Doesn’t the guy have rights like anyone else? But then, I could also understand the opinion of the general public, who often think in black and white. For them, the 9/11 attack was all about religion, and therefore, the architect was considered “the enemy”.
So I kept going from being angry to being understanding and I was glad I wasn’t in that jury! What a dilemma!
The middle of the book, when yet more arguments were brought forward, was a little tedious for me. I wanted to get to some sort of conclusion by then. But overall, I loved reading this book and thinking about the issues posed in it.