A book that makes you think, makes you evaluate, makes you unsure of your own perceived views is a rare and precious thing.
If you haven’t already read Amy Waldman’s utterly brilliant “The Submission”, then you have a serious intellectual treat in store.
The book documents the deliberations and then the resultant turmoil, when the winning (anonymous) design is chosen for a memorial for Ground Zero to commemorate 9/11. Because the winning architect is a Muslim.
Mo Khan is American by birth, and education, and training, and intellect, and instinct.
He is only nominally a Muslim.
Articulate, clever, talented, low key, he is a likeable man who has won an immensely prestigious competition.
His design for a simple, elegant soothing garden was selected, anonymously, by a committee comprising art luminaries, city grandees and the fiercely committed Claire Burwell, a 9/11 widow and the representative of the families who were bereaved in the attack.
Claire loves the design and the concept of the garden, which she finds soothing and perfect, and she unflinchingly sticks to her principles, even when the identity of the architect is known and the furore starts.
For this is no ordinary civic archeological project and the pressure on the committee members is intense. The pressure is, quite simply, to select another design. One not submitted by a Muslim.
The pressure on everyone concerned with the project is extreme, from Claire still grieving and trying to help her young children heal, to the chairman of the selection committee to Mo himself. Family and colleagues line up on either side of battle-lines that are drawn up. Should he withdraw ? Should he change his design ? Should he continue, amidst the maelstrom of publicity and outrage and polarisation that engulfs him, his family, and then the city at large.
It is this angry, vicious polarisation of an emotionally scarred city that is so brilliantly portrayed.
Ignorance on one side vs hostility on the other.
Pain and outrage vs a determination to stand one’s ground.
There is hardly a moral conflict that isn’t evoked during the course of this powerful book.
Mo himself has to face up to the meaning of being a Muslim, of being an immigrant, of being American, but, well, not quite American in the dreadful aftermath of 9/11. His journey of self-awareness is painful and traumatic.
We see a good, decent, likeable man buffeted by pressures that he is helpless to control.
You cannot read this book without being moved by the passion and argument, and by all the ancillary tragedies that result from that one huge tragedy.
“The Submission” makes you think about identity, and assimilation, and community, and influences, and cultural roots, and religion.
It is, quite simply, a wonderful, thought-provoking, fabulously well-written book.
Published by Heinemann, the paperback costs £11.99.
If after reading this review, you wish to buy the book (and it is a compelling read) then simply click on the link below. Couldn’t be easier.