Friday, September 9, 2011

CODA: The Submission by Amy Waldman: 9/11 Through a Looking Glass



I saw Amy Waldman interviewed on a news program and thought, The Submission just might be the "9/11 book" that I am ready for. Having backed into previous 9/11 novels, such as Netherlands, or taken it on headlong in the non-fiction Looming Towers, I had started thinking about what September 11, 2011, ten years after, might actually mean, amazed at how much time has seemed to pass so quickly in this decade: our children becoming teenagers and young adults, the loss of family members, life, NYC, history and the collision of change, hope, and dreams, American and otherwise. 

The Submission is, on the surface, a traditional literary work, but it is subtle and quietly subversive in its analysis of politics, journalism --  tabloid and otherwise, and daily life in contemporary New York at all economic and social strata. It addresses identity politics, more specifically, what it means/meant to be Muslim in America, post 9/11, in the context of the selection of a design for the memorial for victims of a WTC-type terror attack. In doing so, to this reader, it suggests that while there are never precisely any exact winners or losers in this conflict, it is this endless struggle and opportunity, both to identify who we are and to resist being culturally straight-jacketed by others, that seems to identify what it is to be "Americans."

After I finished reading the book, I discovered the accompanying official website which was especially resonant and provocative in offering some of the ideas and sources that inspired and informed the author's writing of this very thoughtful, troubling and satisfying work. 

-Anthony Napoli, Deep in the Heart of Brooklyn

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As the 10th anniversary of September 11, 2011 approaches, I started reading The Submission, a novel by Amy Waldman, which deals with the politics and cultural dislocations swirling around the construction of a memorial for a terrorist attack in New York City.

Since Gilbert Gottfried told his joke at the celebrity roast in October 2001, the creative impulse in us has been struggling to escape and to figure out just what contribution can be made to our understanding of what happened and what it all means, if in fact there are any answers to be had.

What I find fascinating about Ms. Waldman's beautifully written, literate work, at once funny, serious and dark, is that, since this is not truly historical fiction -- clearly, we are, even after a decade, still painfully close to the Reality of the Actual Event --  the book takes place in a sort of Alternate Universe. It is a World Trade Center, in a NYC, on a 9/11 , attacked by terrorists, and a memorial is built by a Committee to remember the event. But at the same time it is something else, it is not a roman a clef of our actual experience, and I find that slight dissonance, or rather incongruity, powerful and adding to the insightfulness of the book. While I am still reading The Submission, the experience feels as though the author, Amy Waldman, has swung for the fences with this not overly long book, and beyond hitting a home run, is achieving something like escape velocity.

I am still reading it, struggling, frankly, to read it slowly, savoring it, so I don't finish it until just before Sunday, 9/11.  Highly recommended.

1 comment:

  1. The moment this book begins it has you in it's grips. Not in an action book, or thriller kind of way. But the way the author makes you think, and frankly, question your own prejudices is really something. History has had many moments like this that were not fiction. I hope we can grow as a country to get passed these type of situations.
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