Book Review: The Submission by Amy Waldman

The Submission by Amy Waldman

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.

About Leeswammes
I'm owner and editor at In my free time, I read and review books on my two blogs, Leeswammes' Blog and De Boekblogger.

22 Responses to Book Review: The Submission by Amy Waldman

  1. Suzanne says:

    I am glad you enjoyed this book. I loved it. I think it would be perfect for book group discussions.

  2. Beth says:

    I have to admit, I’m stalled out in the middle section of this book at the moment. I started it a while back and enjoyed it, but I somehow lost interest about halfway through. I need to pick it back and up and finish, especially as you say that you really liked it. Thanks for the review!

    • Leeswammes says:

      Beth, that sounds like the same middle section where I found the book slow going! I did like it a lot further on again, so yes, give it one more chance.

  3. Tien says:

    sounds awfully controversial (in a good way)

    • Leeswammes says:

      Tien, yes, it’s very interesting. I don’t care much about politics or religion. Maybe because of it, I had trouble taking sides and kept switching my opinion, which kept it interesting.

  4. Trisha says:

    Sounds like an emotional, in a roller coaster sort of way, book!

  5. Nadine Nys says:

    I loved this book too, Judith… What I really found interesting were the effects the whole controversy had on different people., e.g the winning architect who becomes in a way ‘more muslim’.
    I will certainly read other books by Waldman.

  6. This is one of the featured books in newbooks magazine so am pondering getting it though I’ve seen mixed reviews round the blogs.

  7. I have been reading more contemporary lately and am pleased to read your review. I was not familiar with this book, but it sounds like a promising read. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and for the recommendation.

  8. Nadine Nys says:

    Yes it is her first book, Judith, I meant that I would read her books when she has another one. 🙂

  9. pburt says:

    It was one of my book groups favorite reads and led to the best and longest discussion we have ever had. I loved the way the author humanized everyone and the many layers of “submission”.

    • Leeswammes says:

      That’s good to hear, Patty. We almost chose it for the book group, but then went for State of Wonder(Ann Patchett) which also gave a great discussion.

  10. I have an audio copy of this book – glad to see you enjoyed it. I think I will be taking it will me in July/August (I’m gone most of both months traveling).

  11. I love the concept of this one, and do think that it would make a great book club discussion book!

  12. Tesney Ap says:

    It does sound like an interesting plot. Very interesting 🙂

  13. susanbright says:

    This sounds like a great book for my book club. Thanks for the recommendation.

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