Join Amy Waldman to talk about THE SUBMISSION, our July Book of the Month, on Tues 31 July, 9-10pm

(103 Posts)

Our July Book of the Month, THE SUBMISSION, is set in New York, in the aftermath of 9/11. A committee has come together to decide on the most fitting memorial to the city's dead. Claire, the only widow in the group, has fought for a beautiful garden that she feels will give healing to the bereaved. But when they open the winning envelope, they find the previously anonymous designer is an American Muslim... Anger, grief, fear, nationalism, Islam, politics - this book covers it all. It moves fast, it is fantastically diverse and it has a strong beating heart. Just like NYC.

The Guardian called THE SUBMISSION 'an exceptional debut novel about a changing America...pitch perfect' - you can read the full review here.

The book of the month page with more detail about THE SUBMISSION and our giveaway of 50 free copies of Amy's book will go live on Thursday 28 June at 10am. We'll close the giveaway after 24 hours and pick 50 names randomly, and we'll email you to let you know if your name was chosen within 48 hours.

And if you're not lucky enough to bag one of those, you can get your Kindle edition or your paperback here

We are delighted that Amy will be joining us to chat about THE SUBMISSION on Tuesday 31 July, 9-10pm. We'll be discussing the book throughout the month so don't forget to put your thoughts and questions up here before the chat. Hope you can join us...

And a taster: Amy's Q&A with the FT

Devora Mon 30-Jul-12 21:26:44

southlondonlady, isn't it also true to say that Irish Americans occupy a particular place in American culture (quite different from the one they occupy in English culture), particularly in New York and Boston, where they have been associated with a strain of rather chauvinist, reactionary collective identity?

Don't flame me, folks, I'm not saying irish people are reactionary, but I think the cultural context for Irish heritage may be different from an American reader than an English one.

BiscuitNibbler Tue 31-Jul-12 08:00:28

Not finished yet, unfortunately, real life keeps getting in the way of reading.

I am enjoying the book so far, and think it is very thought-provoking, making me think about my reactions quite a lot - maybe this is why it is taking me longer to read.

Some of the writing about gut reactions is spot on. As a lapsed Catholic I know exactly the reaction that Mo had when someone criticised his religion despite believing himself a secularist. Can I ask if you have a lapsed faith that helped you to put yourself in his shoes so well?

My only criticism is nothing to do with the author, and more to do with the editing. Yes, this is an American book, but I think some judicious alteration for the UK market might have helped some parts of the book not to jar so much. For example the bit about the man in the suspenders creates such a totally different image in the UK brain that it lost the momentum for a while - it is hard to remain engrossed in the plot when you are sniggering inappropriately.

I think the book is very well written and it is very believable. I will definitely look out for more books by Amy. Thanks for giving me the chance to read it.

porridgelover Tue 31-Jul-12 09:19:25

Oh dear .....Tilly....forever in my head now as a Dickensian/Hogwarthian bespectacled, rule-measure wielding harridan grin grin

Windsock Tue 31-Jul-12 09:20:31

I'm reading. Liking mucho. Any othervrecs from people ? I likes rules if civility, the Blackhouse goon squad etc
Modern. No dying babies please.

noddyholder Tue 31-Jul-12 10:59:17

My book group read this I loved it! PMSL @ dying babies

nailak Tue 31-Jul-12 12:59:15

Erm I might be late for discussion as time clashes with the time I have to stuff my face break my fast and pray.

mamseul Tue 31-Jul-12 13:39:23

appreciate I'm a bit late for sending questions across, but am curious to know how Amy went about getting permission to use various celebraty names in the novel - how much context did she need to share etc?

Really enjoyed the book. Good pace and some interesting ideas explored. However, I agree with Devora about where it would have made sense to end. And Claire got on my wick a bit after a while. This is probably about me, though. I don't relate well to indecision. Always want to give Hamlet a good shake whevenever I watch it!

nailak Tue 31-Jul-12 14:12:58

What was the most enjoyable thing about writing the book?
What have you got planned for the next book?
How do you fit writing around family life?
How long did it take you to research and write the book?
What has the response to the book been in the USA? Has it been seen as provocative?

Do you think the book can change people's perceptions?

Devora Tue 31-Jul-12 14:48:39

Oh, here's another one!

Do you, the author, have a view on collective responsibility/guilt? I'm fairly sure you, like all reasonable people, would not feel Mo should have taken the sins of the 9/11 terrorists on his shoulders. But of course you tested the limits of the reader's liberalism when Mo grew more and more unbending, even to the stage that just one word from him would have eased Clare's anguish. And you do a great job of showing why Mo is so unyielding. But do you have a view on whether he should have been?

It's such an interesting issue; did you consciously think of analogous situations? For example, I'm of Jewish heritage, and get very arsey indeed if people feel they have the right to demand to know if I have the 'right' views on Israel, or if they hold me responsible for Israel's actions, or if they shake their heads about Israel while sighing, "You would think, of all people, after what the Nazis do to them..."

And yet I do think there comes a point where I have a moral responsibility to say "Not in my name" and take a stand. I found it impossible to maintain a smug silence at the time of Sabra and Shatila, for example. Do you think 9/11 was a time when more Muslims could and should have said Not in my name, and one of the tragedies of the time was that they felt too cornered to do so?

Belo Tue 31-Jul-12 15:01:19

I finished the book yesterday and thoroughly enjoyed it. I'm not sure how much I liked any of the characters. They were all quite arrogant I thought. Apart from Asma who considering her situation seemed quite grounded (I cried when I read about her stabbing).

Leila (the lawyer) is somebody who I thought I could have got to like. I would have liked to have known more about her.

I'm now going away to think of questions...

aristocat Tue 31-Jul-12 20:42:01

I haven't quite finished this book yet sorry but I am enjoying it very much. It is a fast read and such an interesting choice of subject.

My favourite character is Asma, so much emotion and it really gets you to think (although that is the point of the book isn't it?)

I am in awe that this is your first book ...... will definitely look out for more of your work smile

My question is did you always want to write a novel, and why not choose an easier subject material? And whats next please?

Evening everyone

I almost feel we are embarking on an episode of Newsnight – there are so many political/social/theological questions from this novel waiting to be explored. So I am delighted that Amy Waldman is here tonight to throw light on the inspiration and research behind her thought-provoking debut.

We already have many questions to get through, so without further ado...

Amy, firstly, thank you very much indeed to taking the time to join us. And many congratulations on such a successful, enjoyable book. We'll kick off with the advance questions from further up the thread. And then we'll aim to get through as many new ones as possible over the next hour (although getting through all the posts above may take a good chunk of that...)

I'd also like to add our two standard MN Bookclub questions (which we like to ask all authors, and will be archived on the site):

Which childhood book most inspired you?

What would be the first piece of advice you would give anyone attempting to write fiction?

Over to you...

AmyWaldman Tue 31-Jul-12 21:03:08

Thanks, Tilly! It's great to be here with all of you. I'll start with the earliest questions...

AmyWaldman Tue 31-Jul-12 21:04:18

nailak

DO you think that the book gave you a better understanding of what it means to be Muslim in this time?

Is that the aim of the book? to make people evaluate their prejudices?? about illegal immigrants, about Muslims, about tabloid press? about democracy?

Trying to imagine your way into other people's heads - even if they don?t actually exist - should give you a better understanding of their lives if you?re doing it right. So yes, I did some hard thinking about what it would have been like to be Muslim during the past decade. But I also had to imagine what it would be like to be anti-Muslim, whether from grief or other reasons. My job was to try to understand all the characters to the best of my ability.
What I've realized since the book came out is that my novel may be the closest some readers come to encountering a Muslim. You meet people in fiction you might never meet in real life. Fiction is Not just meet - converse intimately with. Fiction is a strange beast in that sense.
I didn't have particular aims for readers because as a first-time novelist I didn't know if I would have any readers! I was interested in so many of the themes in the novel - what should America be after 9/11, what does grief change, how does a woman define herself after her husband dies, how do we read symbols, and people - and the novel was a way to explore them. I wanted to know what would happen if someone like Mo won. I wanted to think about - and I've only realized this retroactively - what I would do if I were in Mo or Claire or Sean?s shoes.

SunshinePanda Tue 31-Jul-12 21:07:47

I found The Submission an extremely thought provoking read. I was struck from the very beginning on the importance of a name and how it conveys so very much about a person. This was deliberately highlighted at both the opening and closing sentences. How important were those two sentences to you when writing the book Amy?
Also whose side were you on? Personally my decision kept changing throughout the book!

AmyWaldman Tue 31-Jul-12 21:08:08

Devora

Ooh yes, I forgot that we could ask Amy questions. Right, here's mine (not expecting her to answer all four, obviously):

1. Can you tell us a bit about the timing of this book? Did you start wanting to write it after 9/11, or after the brouhaha about the proposed Muslim Cultural Centre near Ground Zero?

I first had the idea for the book a couple of years after 9/11. I didn’t start working on it until early 2007. I had already completed a draft when the controversy around the proposed Islamic community center erupted --- needless to say, it was eerie watching my novel come to life in some sense.

2. What have the reactions to your book been like in the US, and elsewhere? Are you reaching an audience beyond the liberal Clare types? Have you had any reaction from bereaved friends, or from Muslim readers?

My sense is that the book has reached a diverse audience, including readers of all political persuasions, and people who lost someone that day. Some find it challenging, others have said they find it cathartic. A lot of people start the book certain about what they believe --- and end confused. I like that. The conversations with Muslim readers have been interesting because they almost feel like a continuation of the novel, these same questions about whether they are responsible for assuaging the fears of non-Muslims.

4. I thought your description of the walled garden in the penultimate chapter was so beautiful and evocative. Have you visited a garden like that? Was it a deliberate plot device to keep the design obscured until nearly the end, and then let it flower in prose?

I've been thinking about the book a lot since finishing it, so thank you. And congratulations again on your achievement - I have a partner who is a writer, with a new book out, so I am fully aware (oh, and how) what a demanding and challenging process it is smile

The garden Mo visits (I hope I am not spoiling anything for readers who haven’t finished!) is in Kabul. I went there often when I was reporting in Afghanistan and I watched it come back to life as it was restored in the years after 9/11. I spent a lot of time, in constructing the novel, deciding where that scene should go. Nowhere seemed quite right until I moved it to the almost-end, when it suddenly resonated in an entirely different way. As a writer it was interesting to see that --- it’s not just the content of a scene, but its placement, that can determine its emotional valence.

AmyWaldman Tue 31-Jul-12 21:09:51

porridgelover

OOh Tilly...is that a wrist smack grin?
You're quite right- I was so busy showing off my observations I forgot to question Amy.

So my question is; in this book I loved how some characters initially had beliefs which changed, sometimes over the course of a conversation. The characters could easily have been shallower but still told a solid story without this element.

Where do you find your insights into motivation come from- do you people watch? So you have an interest/training in psychology? Where do you get your ability to observe and analyse people so well?

As a writer I am really interested in how characters think, more than how they speak or look. I spend a lot of time thinking about thinking, if that makes sense! I kept wanting to go deeper into their heads, to really try to imagine how a moment would look from their perspective, and what kind of reaction that would trigger. I’ve compared it to reporting a profile --- you go back again and again to try to learn more.

Belo Tue 31-Jul-12 21:10:50

Thank you for a most enjoyable and thought provoking book Amy.

Is it too late to come in with my question?

I've been thinking more about Asma and about her husband, working illegally in the towers. Do you know how many illegal workers there were working there? Do you know if they were recognised? Asma got her money. Is this taken from any real life cases?

AmyWaldman Tue 31-Jul-12 21:10:51

nailak

1) my question is how much research did you do? did you live with illegal immigrants?

I didn't live with illegal immigrants but I've done reporting on them over the years and read what I could. I do research less to sandwich information into a novel - it seems to become deadening when I do that - then give myself more insight, in Asma's case, into what it would feel like to live in the shadows. Again, it's about imagination: can you project yourself into that person's shoes?

AmyWaldman Tue 31-Jul-12 21:12:07

southlondonlady

I read this book a while ago and I enjoyed it, I think it is more about following the characters over time rather than the messages which I agree are fairly obvious. The character of Sean was particularly interesting to me, his motivations and how he was swept up in the 'anti' campaign but then realised it had all gone too far.

My question for Amy: was there a reason for choosing an Irish American family for the 'anti' side? I don't remember any reference to this in the book but there are obviously close parallels with Mo's story, as in, Irish people have been regarded with suspicion at various points in history and sometimes expected to explicitly condemn the IRA when this should go without saying.

I did choose to make Sean Irish-American partly because of the history of the Irish in America - moving from being severely discriminated against early on to sometimes playing the same role themselves (which I had would add is a very American story, or maybe a human one - the victims becoming the victimizers.) I hadn't thought until now about the pressure to denounce the IRA but it's a great parallel.

AmyWaldman Tue 31-Jul-12 21:14:26

[quote nailak]What was the most enjoyable thing about writing the book?

Completing a novel can be torment, but writing fiction is incredibly fun. It is a form of play, and I loved discovering the freedom with language, the ability to use humor, which I had never felt as a journalist. It felt like flying, at least at first!

What have you got planned for the next book?

The next book is complicated to explain - it attempts to marry the American fascination with memoirs with the war in Afghanistan. Wish me luck!

How do you fit writing around family life?

I?m struggling with that now - my life, with two-year-old twins, is so different than when I began The Submission. I have much less time and different emotional priorities. I'm trying to get a little bit more of a routine going but it's not easy.

How long did it take you to research and write the book?

Almost four years but I had children in the middle!

AmyWaldman Tue 31-Jul-12 21:16:27

Devora

Oh, here's another one!

Do you, the author, have a view on collective responsibility/guilt? I'm fairly sure you, like all reasonable people, would not feel Mo should have taken the sins of the 9/11 terrorists on his shoulders. But of course you tested the limits of the reader's liberalism when Mo grew more and more unbending, even to the stage that just one word from him would have eased Clare's anguish. And you do a great job of showing why Mo is so unyielding. But do you have a view on whether he should have been?

It's such an interesting issue; did you consciously think of analogous situations? For example, I'm of Jewish heritage, and get very arsey indeed if people feel they have the right to demand to know if I have the 'right' views on Israel, or if they hold me responsible for Israel's actions, or if they shake their heads about Israel while sighing, "You would think, of all people, after what the Nazis do to them..."

And yet I do think there comes a point where I have a moral responsibility to say "Not in my name" and take a stand. I found it impossible to maintain a smug silence at the time of Sabra and Shatila, for example. Do you think 9/11 was a time when more Muslims could and should have said Not in my name, and one of the tragedies of the time was that they felt too cornered to do so?

I am Jewish and I definitely drew on the experience you describe - of being expected to take a position one way or another on Israel - in constructing Mo's character. Muslim readers often seem surprised to hear this, but it's true. I avoid saying what I think Mo should have done partly because I enjoy watching readers arguing with each other and themselves over that question. And I admit I take a certain pleasure in readers? frustration with his intransigence! To me these kinds of moral puzzles rather than any kind of message are the heart of the novel and one of my main interests as a writer. I do think this question of what, as individuals, are our relationship and obligations to the groups we are part of is one of the tricky parts of being human. On a personal level I might feel compelled to speak out, but because I don't like being coerced I'm unlikely to try to coerce anyone else.

AmyWaldman Tue 31-Jul-12 21:18:30

mamseul

appreciate I'm a bit late for sending questions across, but am curious to know how Amy went about getting permission to use various celebraty names in the novel - how much context did she need to share etc?

I didn't seek anyone's permission! I am assuming it works differently in Britain, but here, as long as it's fiction, you're free to appropriate any public figure in your story. Or so I'm told.smile

Really enjoyed the book. Good pace and some interesting ideas explored. However, I agree with Devora about where it would have made sense to end. And Claire got on my wick a bit after a while. This is probably about me, though. I don't relate well to indecision. Always want to give Hamlet a good shake whenever I watch it!

AmyWaldman Tue 31-Jul-12 21:20:00

aristocat

I haven't quite finished this book yet sorry but I am enjoying it very much. It is a fast read and such an interesting choice of subject.

My favourite character is Asma, so much emotion and it really gets you to think (although that is the point of the book isn't it?)

I am in awe that this is your first book ...... will definitely look out for more of your work smile

My question is did you always want to write a novel, and why not choose an easier subject material? And whats next please?

A part of me always wanted to write fiction, even if that desire was sometimes deeply sublimated. A novel seemed too daunting, so I tended to in terms of short stories (which I now find harder to write than novels, incidentally.) To me the subject of The Submission didn't seem hard because I found it so compelling. I couldn't have arbitrarily set out to write a novel, then looked for a subject; only because I found this idea so compelling was I able to write a novel. That doesn't mean that the process of crafting it was easy - it wasn't - but I never worried whether this was something I should be writing about (see above re: first novel, so no readers to worry about). It kept my interest until the last day of writing (and beyond).

I mentioned above a little about what's next - it's different in structure than The Submission, but I can see certain continuities in my preoccupations!

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