The Submission is one of those books that plays with the controversy of its topic. Amy Waldman, former co-chief of the South Asia bureau of The New York Times, writes this novel trying to recreate a portrait of the fears of prejudices of a society suffering from ignorance and irritation, as well as the capacities to forgive and show forgiveness.
An art jury gathers in NYC in 2003 in order to judge and decide which submission is the winner for a memorial where the twin towers once stood. The anonymity of the contest leads the judges to choose a submission called ‘The Garden’ that turns out to be designed by Mohammad Khan, an American-born and non-practicing Muslim.
Waldman describes perfectly well the agitation of the characters in the novel balancing the emotions of the reticent jury and the public’s emotion, especially those family members of the victims. Thus, she sets up a debate that mixes up topics such as religious freedom, cultural identity and immigration.
The story works thanks to one of Waldman’s most prominent skills, storytelling. Her sense of plot and her eye for small details, along with her cinematic and smooth writing, her cogent dialogue and the fast-paced rhythm of the writing are the strengths of The Submission.
However, it is perfectly recognizable her journalist grounding. Sometimes, even the story works and the style is pleasant, there are some weak points that impoverish the whole perception of the book.
Perhaps, the most evident is the multiple perspectives point of view, that weakness the characters and make them plain. The main characters, Mohammed and Claire appear detached from the reader and it is complicated to feel empathy with their issues. The secondary characters, like the journalist, anti-memorial activists, the Bangladeshi wife of a victim, the politician, among a others, enriches the background of the story, but most of them are stiff and they all sound pretty much the same.
The ending located 20 years after the time of the story probably is surprising and pleasing, as Waldman imagines an America healed from its paranoid mood, leaving suspicion Muslims behind, showing her own optimism in the future.
The Submission does not offer new reflections on or understandings of 9/11. It excels at bringing up again many of the 9/11 issues and leading the readers to rethink their preconceived ideas, resorting to sentimental and thought-provoking fictional arguments that seem really true to life.