The Submission, Amy Waldman

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I found this in my draft folder – who knew there was a draft folder? And I can’t for the life of me recall why I left it there … unfinished. So here it is, much overdue: The Submission. Amy Waldman. What can I say? Where can I begin?  What can I say? This is just one of those books that consumes you. I can’t think of a single adjective to describe it. It is too much, too big to be contained by words alone.

I love the website for this novel. It so captures the book: a slab of images, The Architect, The Widow, The Chairman, The Journalist, each image spread across a chess board interspersed with titles – I think it appeals because the Sydney Opera House is there buried in these images and on the surface this book has nothing to do with Sydney’s icon!

I’ve read a few post 9/11 works of fiction. Delillo’s Falling Man has possibly the greatest opening chapter I have ever encountered, but book fizzled from there for me. Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a poignant exploration of the impact of 9/11 on the innocent families, told through the lens of an autistic child. It brilliantly captures the immediate tone of New York City in the aftermath of this unimaginable disaster and the depth of this tragedy is tenderly contrasted by the quirky narrative voice which somehow makes telling this tale more bearable.

What I have not read, is a book which clearly elucidates the deep rift which 9/11 created, specifically impacting the lives of those non-fanatical Muslims who are caught up in the fray of the chaos which followed with the finger-pointing and angst that one can only expect to come in the wake of this enormous tragedy. Waldman’s book does exactly this.

There is so much greatness in this book that it is difficult to quantify. What I think made it so engaging was the dialogue. Nowhere is this more evident than in the book’s opening:

“The names,” Claire said. “What about the names?”

“They’re a record, not a gesture,” the sculptor replied.

It is so simple. The names … what about the names? They are discussing a competition for a memorial, trying to come to grips with what could actually appropriately commemorate an event like 9/11, provide a suitable resting place for those whose bodies were never find while also act as a salve for a city which has been changed forever. They are trying to set parameters. Do we require the names? The person asking is Claire. For her, it matters – “They will for me” she says tightly.

5000 entries have been reviewed and the committee is down to the final two, trying to make a decision. Ultimately it is a decision which is fraught with complexity for a whole host of reasons, none of which I could adequately cover in this space.

In short, this book is brilliant. Truly and honestly, one of those books that brings tears to your eyes while at the same time forces you to reconsider all of your assumptions, to reassess your values and the very way that you move in the world. Reviewing it now, more than a year after I read it, I think it requires rereading. It’s just that kind of book.

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