The 9/11 Memorial in New York City was opened to the public this past September on the 10th anniversary of the attacks. A global competition was conducted to choose the memorial’s design, and author Amy Waldman based her novel The Submission on this idea: what if the architect of the winning design was a Muslim-American?
The Submission takes place 2 years after that fateful day. Emotions are still quite raw and the families of the deceased are grieving. The story opens with the hand-picked competition jury panel discussing the top two designs, with Claire Burwell, who lost her husband in the attacks, arguing strongly for a garden that she feels best reflects his values. One by one she pulls enough other jurors to her side until the garden is their choice. But the jury members are shocked when the envelope reveals the architect’s name is Mohammad Khan.
Before the jury can decide how to proceed, the winner’s name is leaked to the press, and the public is outraged at the selection, which has elements of Muslim architecture and they believe is really a paradise for the terrorists rather than a memorial for the deceased.
The Submission is told from multiple points of view, something I almost always enjoy in a novel as I feel it gives a much richer experience to a novel. The reader follows Claire the widow’s initial support of the winning design, which soon turns to confusion. We learn about Mohammad, “Mo” to his friends, who created the design as way to help himself heal, never expecting the backlash that occurs when he wins. There are many supporting characters – a woman from Bangladesh whose husband was a janitor in the WTC, the brother of a firefighter who died in the rubble, the chairman of the jury, and each point of view rounds out the story. However I felt we never really get to know any of the characters in depth; it felt like the overall importance of the story being told overshadowed any character development.
I find that stories about 9/11 can be difficult to read, but The Submission isn’t really about 9/11, at least the events of that day. It’s about how Americans, specifically New Yorkers, came together in the time that followed, in this case to unite against a memorial they felt was a mockery of the tragedy of that day. It’s a thought-provoking novel that while fictional, realistically portrays what might have been.
Notes on the audiobook: Bernadette Dunne is an entertaining narrator and kept my attention throughout the book. Often when books are told from multiple points of view, either there are multiple narrators, or a single narrators that uses different voices for each character’s dialog. Dunne slightly altered her speech for certain characters but mostly maintained the same tone and cadence, and in this case, it worked well.
This AudioGo audiobook runs 12 hours 47 minutes on 11 CDs. You can also buy a download for a great price at the AudioGo site.