Out of 5,000 contestants the single winner in submitting a design for the Ground Zero memorial is a Muslim architect named Mohammad Khan. A born Muslim who ate pork, dated Jews, and never prayed. In wake of 9/11, the governor’s aid said “all over the Muslim world they’ll be jumping up and down at our stupidity, our stupid tolerance.”
Or at least this is what Amy Waldman hypothesized in The Submission. As a former New York Times journalist, Waldman utilized sharp details, but as a novelist she employed themes to tell a bigger truth out of fiction. While initially confusing with the emergence of new characters, The Submission worked so well as a novel because it doesn’t feel like a work of fiction.
Weaving the mixed narratives of an architect, a widow, the chairman of the memorial project, an immigrant, and a sleazy journalist, the different perspectives become alarmingly confusing. Though the novel built compelling tension from the very instance when Khan was announced winner of the contest, she introduced jumped perspectives too often that the characters could not fall into place quickly enough.
Once past this initial confusion, Walman projected her characters with varying motives. As a result of their different backgrounds, and placed within the context of vulnerable post 9/11 America, she crafted characters with purpose. She painted the image of juror and recent widow Claire Burwell with moral authority when defending Khan’s right to win the contest.
In another instance, Burwell’s influence dissipated when a fellow jury member told her to “get over it.” At this point she began second guessing herself, as Waldman wrote “In a comic book, power would be leaking from here like a liquid.”
The theme of doubt and self-image ran throughout the novel, as evocative analogies tied themes between characters. Khan out of his self-consciousness, he shaved his thick beard when supplying his photo to the submission.
Though many of her are New York elites, from the likes of chairman Paul Rubin and Burwell, she captured the stress of an America in peril. From her different characters’ perspectives, she raise questions during America’s insecure social climate. When threading Rubin’s doubts of the memorial project as controversy of having a Muslim name goes on, he reflected on his country, “it would take more than a new memorial to unite it.”
Amy Waldman combined her skills of reportage with novelist detail in The Submission to