Wednesday, June 27, 2012

tightly focused

The Submission by Amy Waldman
Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
Genre: fiction
Review: For this story to work, we all have to cast our minds back to 2003, a scant two years after the 9/11 attacks, and remember how raw those attacks still felt.  Only then can we all ask ourselves the question: would I have supported a memorial designed by a secular Muslim-American if it had been chosen under these circumstances?  Hopefully, we can all answer honestly that we would have.  And if perhaps we wouldn't have then, certainly with the distance of additional decade, we can all say we would now.  But that's almost beside the point because Waldman gives us multiple points of view without forcing us to choose.

Waldman recreates the mood of post-9/11 New York City without pulling her punches.  Numerous sides get their share of the story-telling: the widow who tries to be fair-minded; politicos who try to pander to all sides without, of course, ever appearing to; the brother of a firefighter who has made being anti-Islam his personal cause; other anti-Islamists who aren't afraid to piggy-back on the fear of the time, even though they didn't lose anyone in the attacks; the reporter who get the leak about the story of the Muslim who won the anonymous competition to design the 9/11 memorial.  If some of these sides are presented more as caricatures than fully fleshed-out characters, that's almost beside the point too as this is a not a character-driven story.

This book has other flaws, perhaps the biggest one being that too many things seem to be beside the point, including things like the motivation of the person who leaked the news about the designer of the memorial, and whether anyone ever found out who it was.  But Waldman does well to keep her story focused on what does matter - the conflicts, internal and external that arise in a situation like this.  Overall, this is a very well written and thoughtful piece of fiction that could all too easily have been non-fiction, which is something we would all do well to remember.

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