...the best 9/11 novel to date ... From this coup de théâtre Waldman skilfully spins out an ever-widening cast ... As the consequences of the memorial decision accelerate towards tragedy the participants have to square the cost of multicultural compromises against the ideal of the US’s self-appointed role as the city upon a hill. It is a struggle Waldman depicts with both intelligence and wit, in accomplished prose. This is a deeply thoughtful and moving account of the myriad ways in which, when the towers came down, the US psyche became a casualty too.
With the keen and expert eye of an excellent journalist, Waldman provides telling portraits of all the drama’s major players, deftly exposing their foibles and their mutual manipulations. And she has a sense of humor: the novel is punctuated with darkly comic details ... If this lively and thoroughly imagined narrative has a weakness, it lies in Waldman’s decision to remain at a certain remove from [the] two central characters; in a sense, not to privilege them more. As the story unfolds, their fateful decisions are eminently plausible, but not always fully comprehensible ... Elegantly written and tightly plotted, The Submission ultimately remains a novel about the unfolding of a dramatic situation — a historian’s novel — rather than a novel that explores the human condition with any profundity. And yet in these unnerving times, in which Waldman has seen facts take the shape of her fiction, a historian’s novel at once lucid, illuminating and entertaining is a necessary and valuable gift.
The grief surrounding 9/11 – the forms it takes, the claims it makes, the claims made in its name by third parties, the hierarchy which surrounds it ...the guilt and anger which are born from it, the gulf between the silence of private grief and the clamour of public grief – is central to this exceptional debut about a changing America ... Waldman's prose is almost always pitch-perfect, whether describing a Bangladeshi woman's relationship with her landlady or the political manoeuvring within a jury. The characters are wholly realised and believable as individuals, but they also stand in for stories and conflicts that go beyond their own lives ... The Submission would have been a remarkable response to last year's Cordoba House/Park 51 debacle in America, with its Qur'an burnings, its editorials about the difference between what is legal and what is acceptable, its reminder that not all post-9/11 conflicts were taking place outside America.
A decade after 9/11, Amy Waldman’s nervy and absorbing new novel...tackles the aftermath of such a terrorist attack head-on. The result reads as if the author had embraced Tom Wolfe’s famous call for a new social realism — for fiction writers to use their reporting skills to depict 'this wild, bizarre, unpredictable, Hog-stomping baroque country of ours' — and in doing so, has come up with a story that has more verisimilitude, more political resonance and way more heart than Mr. Wolfe’s own 1987 best seller, The Bonfire of the Vanities. ... Writing in limber, detailed prose, Ms. Waldman has created a choral novel with a big historical backdrop and pointillist emotional detail, a novel that gives the reader a visceral understanding of how New York City and the country at large reacted to 9/11, and how that terrible day affected some Americans’ attitudes toward Muslims and immigrants ... Indeed, it is Ms. Waldman’s ability to depict their grief and anger — as well as Mo’s dream of creating a beautiful memorial, and his subsequent disillusion — that lends this novel its extraordinary emotional ballast, and that reminds us how inextricably linked the personal and the political, the private and the public have become in our post-9/11 world.
Although none of the characterisations are especially deep...this doesn't prove too big a drawback because The Submission isn't primarily a character-driven novel. It's really a work of social realism whose objective is to show something about the workings of an entire society, how its disparate parts fit together ... In attempting all this, Waldman has two significant things going for her: she knows her stuff, and she writes well. The Submission gives the impression of being underpinned by a deep knowledge of municipal politics, of committees and pressure groups, and its best scenes are those that inhabit this quasi-official sphere ... Waldman's smooth, knowing prose serves to ensure that the regular shifts of register never jar too much ... Ultimately, The Submission's opening narrative ploy, though a brilliant device for getting the story up and running, proves something of a limitation. There's a growing sense that too much in the novel is determined by it, that the characters don't truly exist outside its frame. As a result, The Submission seems to lose, rather than gain, moral depth and momentum as it progresses. Still, this is an exciting debut from a writer who has set herself the target of attempting something urgent and bold, and who has, for the most part, pulled it off.
The Submission is a gorgeously written novel of ideas about America in the wake of Sept. 11 ... Maybe the most audacious question that's posed by Amy Waldman's debut novel, however, is the implicit one that lingers long after a reader finishes it: Namely, could it be that a decade after the attacks, America finally has the Sept. 11 novel — one that does justice, artistically and historically, to the aftershocks of that day? ... The Submission distinguishes itself by its panoramic scope and, also, by the ease with which it pulls off the literary magic trick of being at once poetic and polemical. Arguments about America are hashed out relentlessly on the pages of this novel, yet Waldman never stints on character development, plot or the pleasures of her inventive language.
In her first novel, Waldman does a credible job of showing the hysteria of the years following the attack and the role of the press in both revealing and distorting the truth ... The novel comes alive in the dramatic scenes when [the characters] are allowed to speak and think for themselves rather than represent a group or an opinion. But because Waldman attempts a broad inclusive view, the more minor characters often emerge as stereotypes ... What might work as a kind of talking-heads documentary can seem formulaic and shallow in fiction. The writing also suffers at times from Waldman's desire to cover all the ground and be fair to her characters. It can seem not so much journalistic as over-explanatory, with little left for the reader to discover ... The ending, set some 20 years later, is the most convincing and graceful part of the book, perhaps because it narrows the focus to two characters, Mohammed and Claire, and the unpredictable nature of their lives.
This bold, self-assured debut has already been compared to Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities ... Her plot is beautifully simple, if not stunningly original ... Waldman, with ferocious intelligence, presents various archetypes of the endless soul searching - or complete lack of it - affecting every strata of American life at the time ... The book is marred by a convoluted epilogue set at 20 years’ distance, leaking with the sentimentality so admirably absent earlier on. However, Waldman’s fearless dissection of the commodity of public sorrow is to be applauded, along with the brilliance of her writing.
Some of the reviewers’ hyperbole is no doubt a symptom of a general longing for a good book about 9/11, but it is strange that critics feel the obligation to pay compliments to a writer’s prose when it’s more likely that what appeals to them about this plodding, schematic, unfunny novel is its forgiving version of recent history ... Reading The Submission, I often had the feeling that the novel was written by the New York Times itself; that Waldman has so thoroughly internalised the paper’s worldview that she can’t see things any other way.
Amy Waldman’s The Submission is a curious literary cryptogram, a novel that genuinely seems not to know how novel it wants to be. Not a nonfiction novel, not a documentary novel, neither a historical satire nor a memoir that flirts with fiction, it’s more like a simulation, a simulacrum, of our very recent history ... Written largely before last summer’s Park51 ground-zero-mosque fiasco but published a year later, it accomplishes the rare feat of being prescient after the fact, a counterfactual novel that turns out to be accurate in all the details that matter ... Waldman was a New York Times reporter who covered September 11 and its aftermath, in New York and South Asia, and her greatest asset here is her ability to walk through walls ... The Submission reads like a perfectly achieved magazine feature. That is, not defamiliarization but refamiliarization, i.e., kitsch, like visiting a wax museum and contemplating how much effort, how much human skill, went into making those uncanny replicas ... Of course, The Submission is not nonfiction, however much it mimics it; it’s a novel, and we have to ask, simply, Why? ... [The] inability to step outside its own pressure chamber explains why The Submission, while finely crafted and expertly designed, fails the test Ezra Pound proposed last century: that literature be news that stays news...Instead, it illustrates how easily we are seduced—in fiction or, more chillingly, in 'fact'—by the familiar; how easy it is to mistake detail for depth and plausibility for insight.
Told from a multitude of perspectives, the novel seems to be an attempt to depict every possible response of those affected by the attacks ... Waldman’s book is rich with potential, but it often seems as though she has too much material and isn’t sure what to with it. The controversy over the art and architecture of memorials...comes up occasionally, but is never fully developed. And though much time is spent describing the seemingly simple winning memorial design, it never really feels alive or as meaningful as the jury finds it. The same can be said about Waldman’s characters. While they each have an intricate and calculated back-story, they are there solely to serve some end goal. They each seem to be a caricature of a certain type of person in the post-9/11 landscape ... The novel mimics the characters’ lack of desire to develop a deeper understanding of Muslims, and instead remains cursory in its dealings with the subject ... Ultimately, Waldman’s novel is thought provoking in its premise but disappointing in its execution. While enjoyable to read, it offers no real substance beyond its idea, and the idea of the book, like the idea behind Mo’s design, while noble, is never properly executed.
It isn’t just the continuing relevance of the subject matter that makes The Submission such a powerful book, it’s the way Waldman gets deep under the skin of decision making ... Waldman’s background as a reporter covering the Muslim world gives the book an authority, although any facts are integrated into the plot and never come across as mere exposition.
...noteworthy for its complex characters, moral seriousness and willingness to raise soul-searching questions Americans will be forced to answer with ever-increasing urgency ... What is most rewarding about Waldman’s novel is her deftness in shunning stereotypes, offering an array of characters both appealing and frustrating in all their human complexity ... Despite the evident parallels between Waldman’s story and the mosque debate, its perspective is both fresh and vivid. Manifesting a confidence that thoughtful fiction can prove more illuminating than fact, she’s produced a novel whose questions will resonate long after the controversy of the moment has played itself out.
Most novels about 9/11 tell intimate stories of families affected by that day and its aftermath ... The Submission engages us in a broader political conversation, outlining fictional events of national significance that one could easily imagine taking place ... To spend time with these diverse characters and see how their individual experiences and group loyalties, ambitions and heartaches affect American democracy is satisfying - the novel stages a political debate in a way that's neither preachy nor overly clever. The problem here, though, is that the worlds of the characters are circumscribed by the events at hand. There's nothing extraneous to the story, and it's the nonessential details - the idiosyncratic thoughts, the irrational desires - that tend to make us care about a character. I wanted to feel something for Mo beyond sympathy for his entrapment in post-9/11 politics. Sadly, I didn't.
...poised and commanding ... Waldman, a former New York Times reporter, discusses 9/11 victims, memorial gardens and Muslim-American life, but her keenest observations are of the media. She has a canny understanding of how a New York Post front page can stoke right-wing rage, or how a New York Timesarticle can muddy the waters. There’s a slight cartoonishness to her characterizations of cub reporters and radio hosts, but overall this is a remarkably assured portrait of how a populace grows maddened and confused when ideology trumps empathy. A stellar debut. Waldman’s book reflects a much-needed understanding of American paranoia in the post-9/11 world.
...frighteningly plausible and tightly wound ... As misguided outrage flows from all corners, Waldman addresses with a refreshing frankness thorny moral questions and ethical ironies without resorting to breathless hyperbole. True, there are more blowhards than heroes, but that just makes it all the more real.