9 reviews

The Submission: A Novel
by Amy Waldman

Published: 2011-08-16
Kindle Edition : 352 pages
18 members reading this now
25 clubs reading this now
6 members have read this book
Recommended to book clubs by 9 of 9 members
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 2011One of NPR’s 10 Best Novels of 2011
Ten years after 9/11, a dazzling, kaleidoscopic novel reimagines its aftermath

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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.

Editorial Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, August 2011: Amy Waldman has performed a rare and dangerous feat in writing an airtight, multi-viewed, highly readable post-9/11 novel. When a Muslim architect wins a blind contest to design a Ground Zero Memorial, a city of eleven million people takes notice. Waldman, a former bureau chief for the New York Times, explores a diversity of viewpoints around this fictional event, bringing in politicians, businessmen, journalists, activists, and normal people whose lives--whether by happenstance, choice, or even due to their country of origin--get caught up in the controversy. Incredibly, she manages to keep all the balls in the air without ever fumbling. The story is moving and keeps the pages turning, but there are also bigger themes at work: of individuals versus groups; about the purpose of art, commerce, government, and journalism in society; of how people respond to grief and terror. The result is honest, compelling, and breathtaking.--Chris Schluep


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Discussion Questions

Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. What do you think the purpose and message of a national memorial should be? Would you have voted for the Void or the Garden?

2. Reread the epigraph. What do its words suggest about the relationship between nature and human nature?

3. As Claire tries to explain the tragedy to William (and, in a way, to Penelope), what does she discover about her own beliefs and feelings?

4. Mo is under considerable pressure to give the "right" reasons when asked why he entered the competition, but he defies simplistic answers. What does his design communicate on its own? For any creative work including novels should the author's biography matter to us? Do you think he was obligated to explain himself and his design? Why or why not?

5. Chapter 16 begins with a depiction of Mo's hunger and thirst during Ramadan. We're told, "The truth was he didn't know why he was doing it." How does it affect him, a secular skeptic, to join Muslims worldwide in observing the fast?

6. How did your reactions shift as Sean's story unfolded, especially as he struggled with conflicting feelings after pulling Zahira's scarf? Is bigotry excusable if it's coming from someone whose loved one was the victim of a horrific crime? What are the limits of a survivor's rights?

7. Asma's memories of Inam are her private inheritance, and she must rely on translators to convey her messages in English. Did anyone in the novel have a truly accurate understanding of her suffering? How was her mourning experience different from Claire's and Sean's? What common emotions do all of the novel's survivors share?

8. Many of the characters desperately want someone to blame for their loss. The final line of chapter 22, referring to Alyssa, reads, "She is responsible." Ultimately, who is responsible for the tragedies depicted in the novel?

9. What would you have done in Paul Rubin's situation? Was it courageous or insensitive of him to permit Mo's submission to move forward?

10. A journalist, Amy Waldman had special insight into Alyssa's world. What does the novel tell us about the role of the media (exploited by all parties involved) and the impact of a free press in the information age?

11. How does Claire's sense of self change when Jack reappears in her life? Did Cal, despite his wealth, cost her an important part of her identity?

12. Discuss the novel's title. To what (and to whom) must the characters submit? Who are the novel's most and least submissive characters?

13. An uproar erupted in 2010 when Park51, a community center housing a mosque, was proposed for construction two blocks from Ground Zero. What does this conflict and the one described in The Submission suggest about how 9/11 might have transformed American society? (Note: Amy Waldman began writing The Submission several years before Park51 was announced.)

14. What makes fiction a powerful way to explore events that shaped our lives? What can a novel achieve that journalism and testimonials can't?

15. In the final "dialogue" between Claire and Mo, orchestrated by Molly and William, is anything resolved? What does the closing image of a cairn show us about the heart of the novel, and the role of future generations in resolving history?

Suggested by Members

As a member of the jury, which memorial would you select? Why?
Should further screening of architects have been done prior to the jury receiving entries? If yes, why?
by krusso (see profile) 06/13/14

How do the characters represent parts of contemporary society?
How does incomplete information provided by the media change our own opinions?
by MarthaO (see profile) 10/22/13

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

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. This is her first novel.

Book Club Recommendations

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
by Elisa J. (see profile) 07/04/20

by Cindy M. (see profile) 06/18/14

  "The Submission: A Novel"by Karen R. (see profile) 06/13/14

I read the book rather quickly because the story was interesting and the characters were even more so.

  "The Submision"by Denise G. (see profile) 06/13/14

The book is full of layers of discussion. One question that came back to me is what is an American - defined by race, creed or the length that you live in the United States? How do we handle adversity?... (read more)

  "The Submission"by Eileen I. (see profile) 06/13/14

This author loved words...lots and lots of words...especially SAT words! She slowed down after the first few chapters but I found her story conflicting. She didn't seem to know which side of the argument... (read more)

  "Great Discussion of a Mixed Review Book"by Charissa M. (see profile) 04/11/14

Our book club had one of the liveliest discussions in quite some time and this book was not uniformly liked. We had some members who loved it, others who hated it, and most who gave it 3.5 out of 5 stars.... (read more)

  "The Submission"by Martha O. (see profile) 10/22/13

I found this book dry but most of the book club members liked it. We agreed that it was an excellent text for discussion.

  "It made me think"by Martha F. (see profile) 08/26/12

I loved the way the book portrayed all the issues, but didn't bring them to conclusion. You really had to think about how you felt about each and every issue it raised.

  "A bit meandering."by Jeanne S. (see profile) 07/24/12

Our group liked the book but felt the author lost her way about two thirds of the wy through the novel. While the plot was a good idea, it didn't seem as if the author developed it fully.

  "Fascinating book"by Sara B. (see profile) 06/07/12

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