Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26, 299 pp.
Only a reporter could have written The Submission, an acutely topical and realistic novel about the rancorous debate unleashed when a Muslim wins a competition to design a memorial to those killed in the September 11, 2001, attacks. This is a story that reads as if a New York City newspaper’s star reporter miraculously got intimate access to every major player and every major development in the most heated controversy of the day, plus the time to digest and organize it all before sitting down to write.
And, in a way, it is just that. First-time novelist Amy Waldman was in fact a New York Times reporter from 1997 to 2006, and her novel accomplishes masterfully what in newsrooms is called “covering the waterfront.” Delving into the highly politicized aftermath of the tragedy, Waldman has given voice, context, and insight to seemingly every relevant character in a hot-button drama that is still unfolding: our national battle over the nature of Islam and its role in America. The timing of this novel’s release perfectly fits the news cycle, arriving ten years after the 9/11 attacks, just in advance of the opening of Manhattan’s real-life memorial—and mere months after backers of the “Ground Zero Mosque” won a court battle clearing the way for them to build.
The Submission picks up the story two years after the WTC attacks, as a prize jury charged with selecting a design for a victims’ memorial spars over the proposals of two anonymous...