The Submission: A book about 9/11, that's not actually about 9/11

Mar 4, 2013

Author Amy Waldman
Credit Pieter M. Van Hattem

In 2011, Amy Waldman’s debut novel The Submission, made its way onto numerous “best” lists. Esquire Magazine named it the book of the year, and NPR called it one of the year’s top ten. Since then, The Submission has been part of many communities’ reading programs, and is now the Kalamazoo Public Library’s Reading Together selection.

The Submission is about an entry into a competition, and it is also about submission in just about every other sense of the word. The competition is to pick a designer for a memorial in New York, just two years after a catastrophic terrorist attack. Long-time journalist Amy Waldman wrote the novel after 9-11.

“Well, originally I felt it meant submission to the competition and also Islam, meaning submission to God, in that sense," Waldman says. "That was the play on words that interested me in the beginning, but then as I kept working on the book, I realized the book is about submission in a way, I mean, when you succumb to the pressures you are under, or what’s an individual’s relationship to the group, or tribe, or religion, or country they are part of and do you submit to the expectations of that particular group. So, submission just seemed to resonate again and again through the book.”

Waldman says writing fiction was a real departure from her former work, as co-chief of the New York Times South Asia Bureau. She knew she wanted to write a book about events connected to the 9-11 attacks.

“You know, there were definitely issues and ideas that were interesting to me that probably prompted the idea in the first place. But, once I entered into it, it really was about the story and the characters and making that feel real," she says. "I wanted, as much as possible, to write a page-turner, where people wanted to keep reading.”

People have been reading her book since it came out, and discussing it. Waldman says the book’s popularity has been a real turning point in her life as a writer.

“It was a pleasant surprise to have people read it and respond to it," she says. "I think the biggest life change was giving me both the freedom and confidence to continue pursuing fiction writing, because once I started doing it I fell in love with it and that’s what I want to keep doing.”

Waldman is currently writing her second novel. She says writing The Submission was something she needed to do to try and make sense of a changing world.

“You, know, people often want to know what I think about all these issues, Islam and post-911 America, and my answer to that is that I don’t have simple answers, and that’s probably why I wrote the novel," says Waldman. "Because I think a novel and fiction is perfect for questions that don’t have easy answers, and that place of confusion is where I’ve been for the past many years, so to me, fiction is an ideal form for that.”

Author Amy Waldman will read from and discuss her book Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the Kalamazoo Central High School Auditorium. The Submission is the Kalamazoo Public Library’s 2013 Reading Together book selection.