I finished The Submission by Amy Waldman last night. It took me a couple of weeks to get through it, not because I didn't like it, but because it was emotionally hard to read. Which probably means it was well-written.
I can't recommend it in a "you'll love it!" sort of way, but it's the sort of book that I'm glad I read and will stick with me for a long time.
I first saw a review on Sepia Mutiny, the Indian-American blog I used to read occasionally. It was not a flattering one, so I didn't add the book to my must-read list, given that reading time is scarce these days.
A few weeks ago, I heard the author being interviewed on KUOW, our local public radio station, and found out the book had been chosen for the "Seattle Reads" program, which seems to be some kind of city-wide book club thing. The interview was interesting and unfortunately I got to work before it ended, but I liked her description of her characters and figured I'd give this book a shot.
I bought it for my Kindle that night and read the first few chapters quickly. The writing is straightforward and there are a lot of characters. It's about a (fictitious) contest to design a memorial for 9/11 victims and has several related storylines.
What kept me reading, and what also made it hard for me to read, was the main character, Mohammed Khan, an American architect of Indian ancestry whose "Americanness" is questioned through the entire novel. As someone with a similar background (albeit not Muslim), it was really hard to read about the racist attitudes towards him, even though this was a work of fiction and of course I'm not unaware of real-life people who think I and people like Mohammed aren't "real Americans".
There were almost too many characters and storylines, and I wanted more depth about some of them, like Khan and Asma Haque. There were a few characters I just didn't care too much about and they had whole chapters devoted to them. But altogether it was woven together well though the ending left me sort of... empty. I just wasn't sure what to do with it. But I'm a person who likes all the loose ends tied up, and with this story it was never going to happen.
This is the sort of book I wish we had read and discussed in an English lit course - modern subject matter, with interesting themes about the society we live in. Way better than incomprehensible Faulkner (and I've had to read more than one of his books!) and so-old-I-couldn't-care-less The Scarlet Letter. Blasphemy, I know.
So if you're looking for something to feed your brain a little, this is a good choice. Definitely not summer beach reading, though, unless you like to use your brain for that!