Fear and Loathing in Post 9/11 America: Amy Waldman's The Submission

Paul Harvey

Amy Waldman's new novel The Submission has hit the bookstore and amazon shelves at our moment of national reflection on the 9/11 anniversary. The book has been reviewed many places, too many to list here, and Maureen Corrigan glowingly reviewed the work today on Fresh Air, calling it a good candidate for America's 9/11 novel (beating out, in her mind, some other serious contenders by the likes of Don Delillo and Jonathan Foer).

I have written a piece about the novel, which will appear soon either here or elsewhere (will link to it or post it shortly). In the meantime, Haroon Moghul has conducted an insightful interview with the author and posted it over at Religion Dispatches.

The novel, in case you haven't seen or heard about it yet, follows the story of a competition for submissions to design the 9/11 memorial, two years after the day. When the winner's name is revealed -- Mohammed Khan -- all hell breaks loose, and the rest of the novel follows the story of all the contending passions, both real and media-made, which we've witnessed over the last several years. The novel certainly functions as social satire, as it intends to do, but as the book progresses there are many powerful passages which transcend the genre and give voice to powerful emotions in both the characters and the reader. The work asks difficult questions and doesn't provide any easy answers.

Here's a brief excerpt from the interview, and then follow the rest at the break. My own thoughts on the book (as well as on another very different take on post 9/11 New York, Joseph O'Neill's Netherland) will be posted soon.

The novel seems to intertwine tragedy and how we remember tragedy. It’s a very American story, obviously—but the aftermath of September 11 has affected the whole world. Do you think audiences outside America can connect with your story?

I do. As you say, what happened to America has affected so much of the rest of the world—both because of America’s response, and because of the debates about and within Islam that September 11 prompted. America, and the ideals it’s meant to represent, obviously cast a disproportionate shadow globally, and even though the novel is a fictional portrait of the aftermath of 9/11, I think it will resonate with all of the non-Americans who have followed the real-life version.

And many of the novel’s questions are universal: how do you decide what you believe, and how do you act on that? How do you balance loyalty to the dead and the living, to family and country, and to yourself? How do private histories or personal insecurities shape public dramas—and thus the course of history? The Submission is about all of that.

Continue reading here . . .