The Submission by Amy Waldman

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The Submission by Amy Waldman

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Louise Laurie
Reviewed by Louise Laurie
Summary: This work of fiction centres around what would be deemed a suitable memorial for all those caught up in the 9/11 attack. From thousands of anonymous submissions, it's eventually whittled down to one - and then the problems start.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: August 2011
Publisher: William Heinemann
ISBN: 978-0434019328

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Longlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction 2012

The front cover of the book that I received for review is subtle (as befitting the sensitive contents) and I can see the two twin towers (as was) depicted in grey in the title word submission. The back cover announces that this novel will be Published in time for the 10th anniversary of 9/11. No pressure then. I open the book with a certain amount of trepidation, I have to admit and feel slightly as if I'm about to tread on (literary) eggshells. Heavens - what if I don't like the book?

It's two years after 9/11 and its dreadful atrocities. The judging panel are in session. The remit? To agree on a winning submission from thousands. Seated around the table appear to be the movers and shakers of New York. Interestingly, only one person who actually lost a loved one on 9/11 is part of the panel. Claire Harwell lost her husband. And straight away it's obvious there's a certain level of friction - yes, even with so sensitive a subject matter. Is this an omen of things to come perhaps?

Claire is in no doubt as to which submission is her favourite: it's a memorial garden for those who lost their lives and hopefully will be a place of quiet contemplation for family and friends. But she's shouted down. Someone, someone with a rather shrill voice throws in, in my opinion, her rather ludicrous view that this particular submission cannot be allowed - its beauty is off the scale and therefore unsuitable. And I'm thinking to myself, how can a garden, how can any garden be too beautiful.

Early on, Waldman gives her readers plenty of detail, where appropriate. So, we get a very detailed run-through of Claire's favourite so that we can picture it in all its glory in our minds' eye. I could. As the debate round the table warms up it takes various forms: academic, deep thinking and also pointless and long-winded. Some panel members cite famous European gardens to argue their point. But will it work?

We return to the area of sensitivity once again. Several major sticking points about this submission are discussed at great length and a particular bone of contention is how all of the names of the deceased can be suitably displayed. The result, yet again, is: stalemate.

Things then take an unexpected (and unwelcome for some) turn. The soon-to-be winning submission is by an architect by the name of - Mohammed Khan. And now you could hear a pin drop around the room. Talk about putting the cat amongst the pigeons.

In between fraught sessions of the judging panel to iron out any niggles (and good luck with that, I'm thinking) we get a bit of a potted history on Claire. Why? Because she's become the star member, the star 9/11 widow (dreadful phrase I know but that's how she's perceived by many) and when she speaks people generally listen. Well, until now. Now she has her work cut out and her negotiating skills to hone.

It's now so much more than a simple submission. Each member has to search deep within themselves. Some ask questions along the lines of 'do I have some sort of problem with this Islamic name - and why' and 'Mr Khan is an American citizen, so what's my problem here' and others of that ilk. Honesty always helps but it's all difficult, very difficult.

I found that I got caught up in this fictional debate early on. Waldman has a terrific, educated and elegant style. Add in the ultra-sensitive subject matter and this book reaches another level. A novel which forces us to ask searching questions of ourselves, to think deep and hard, not only about global terrorism but other serious issues also. An extremely thought-provoking book. Highly recommended.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

If this book appeals then you might like to try Future Jihad: Terrorist Strategies Against America by Walid Phares.

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