Amy Waldman’s The Submission is a wonderful novel and an interesting addition to existing literature with both 9/11 and immigrant themes. Though not explicitly Jewish themed, the notions of who is an American and what American identity is or should be in a post-September 11 era are of interest and concern to Jewish readers. There are a few Jewish characters but it is the themes rather than the characters which hold Jewish interest.
Waldman was a reporter for the South Asia bureau of The New York Times and her ability to marshall and accumulate details that support her characters and her settings is one of the main strengths of this novel, Waldman’s first.
The book follows the contest to create a memorial at the site of the Twin Towers. The protagonists are the members of the committee that will decide on the winner; this group includes the families of survivors, artists, and the chairman, a Jew who has held various political positions. The committee makes a decision without knowing the winner’s identity. It is revealed that the winning design is by a secular Muslim named Mohammed, whose parents tell him that they gave him this name both because it was his pious Muslim grandfather’s name and because it was a “statement of faith in America that we never thought for a moment that your name would hold you back in any way.” The question of how America reacts to a Muslim architect occupies this gem of a novel, rife with lovely specific details on New York, the Bangladeshi immigrant community, and identity politics.
Beth Kissileff is in the process of fundraising and writing grants to develop a program to assist rabbis of all denominations with writing and publishing books. Kissileff is a rabbinic spouse and author of the novel Questioning Return as well as editor of the anthology Reading Genesis: Beginings.