The Submission at a glance:
AUTHOR: Amy Waldman
LENGTH: 337 pp
RECOMMENDATION: 2/5 Stars
BY HANNAH PROCTER
In the years that have followed 9/11, few things have been more prevalent than the fear of Muslims in American society. With all of the controversy surrounding a recent attempt to build a Mosque near Ground Zero, Amy Waldman’s novel The Submission is a timely piece.
Waldman attempts to meld multiple lives together to tell the story of a fictional attempt at the creation of a 9/11 memorial. Two years after the tragedy of September 11, 2001, a group of artists has convened to decide on a memorial to be built on Ground Zero. The novel begins with the competition being drawn to two designs; one design is much more liked by the committee of artists, historians and one widow. The designs have been kept anonymous and upon decision, the committee learns the name of the winner.
Architect Mohammed Khan is the designer of the winning memorial design. As readers can tell by his name, Khan is a Muslim. However, Khan does not define himself as a Muslim, but as an American. Because of Khan’s background, people across the country attempt to force Khan to withdraw his design.
The novel follows multiple characters and their involvement in the decision as to whether or not to allow Khan’s design to be constructed. These characters include Khan, a widow, the New York City mayor, a Muslim immigrant, a reporter, a Muslim hate group, a lawyer and more. While it is important to allow all of these characters to have voices and places in the novel, Waldman never gives full explanations of each character. She jumps around so often in the novel that readers are forced to look back to earlier sections in order to remember the names and roles of each character. Waldman’s attempt to give voice to every necessary figure in this political battle is unsuccessful. Rather than doing justice for the most important characters or to the characters to whom she is most attached, Waldman does not give proper voice to anyone.
Throughout The Submission, Waldman includes multiple sex scenes that have no merit to the context around it. For a novel that puts up the effort to make a social commentary on the fear of Muslims in American society, readers spend more of their time reading vulgar sex scenes and profane language that does not go along with the main message of the plot, than contemplating Islamophobia. These sex scenes tend to come out of nowhere, and the readers are left unsure of the reasons behind them.
Waldman also leaves readers wondering about the fate of several characters multiple times in the book. At one point, Khan breaks up with one woman to begin to date another, and readers are not given information about the fate of the woman he left. Waldman does this with more than one character and by doing this leaves readers confused and wondering what happens to some of the most important characters in the novel.
This novel also has possibly one of the worst endings. The Submission has an epilogue that has been set twenty years into the future. The epilogue feels as if it has been tacked onto the ending of the novel as a way to tie up all of the loose ends that have been left open. The ending feels forced and unsuccessful.
Overall, the goal of The Submission is an admirable project. There are multiple places in the novel which Waldman can expand on the fear of Islam that is seen in America, rather than just the hatred. Because Waldman leaves characters floating and ends untied, readers are unable to come full-spectrum with the novel. While Waldman has taken on an important task, she seems to have bitten off more than she can chew.