SPOILER WARNING: These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points if you have not read the book.
Title: The Submission
Author: Amy Waldman
Page Count: 299
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Tone: Issue-driven, dramatic, politically provocative
1. Before you opened The Submission, what were your thoughts/feelings about reading what might be reductively termed a “9/11 book”? Had you read others? Did your feelings change as you read and/or in retrospect?
2. Was this a hard book to read? Did you enjoy it? Did it make you uncomfortable?
3. When we present this book, we sometimes struggle with the fact that a quick summary doesn’t fully represent what the book is. How might you describe The Submission to others?
4. One could argue that not much happens in this book – that it is a protracted debate. Is this accurate? Would you have wanted more to happen?
5. Could you see this happening? Any development that strains credibility? Do you know of events that have unfolded similarly? (e.g., Maya Lin and Vietnam memorial, Flight 93 memorial, uproar over a mosque being built two blocks from Ground Zero)
6. If you had served on the jury, how would you have voted?
7. Much of the power of this book comes from the multiple perspective narration. Were there specific characters’ stories in which you especially found yourself invested? Why do you think that is? Any in which you weren’t as interested? Did it change throughout the story?
8. How would the book have been different if told from one perspective?
9. Who would you say are the most central characters in this book – i.e. whose story is this?
10. Mo hardly even thinks of himself as Muslim. Would it change the story if he were devout?
11. To what extent do we consider the artist when we perceive or evaluate art? Does it/should it matter? Consider authors or actors or filmmakers.
12. One of the big issues is that Mo refuses to offer reassurances. Should he have? Do you understand why he wouldn’t?
13. In what ways are Mo and Asma perceived as “lesser Americans”? Do they perceive themselves this way? What is your personal reaction to this idea?
14. How did you feel with the newspaper phrasing of Claire “sleeping with the enemy” and all that it implied?
15. In what ways are the plot and characters affected by the juxtaposition of Ramadan?
16. Do you think Asma regretted speaking out?
17. Should Mo have been willing to change design?
18. What struck you most about the public hearing? In what ways do the speakers and events of this single scene represent the themes of the book? Would you say the views are balanced?
19. Think about the secondary characters, such as Yuki and Debbie. What do they contribute to the story?
20. Are there villains in this story? Is everyone presented fairly?
21. How is journalism as an institution portrayed? (Remember, Waldman herself is a journalist.) Do you agree that “people want to be told what to think” and/or that “people want to be told what they already think is right”?
22. To which “submission” does the title refer?
23. In terms of theme, Waldman is quoted in one interview as saying:
“The novel has a lot of different themes, but one is in the wake of 9/11, who do we trust? How do we decide who to trust? American Muslims, how do we think about them? How do we understand Islam when there is so much fear and confusion around it? And I think the ambivalence even many liberals have felt since 9/11 is how to feel about these things…[including wanting to be open but still very much afraid]”
Are these ideas explored effectively? Are there answers?
24. What did you think about the ending? Did it surprise you? Could/should it have ended differently?
25. This is Waldman’s first novel. Is that apparent?
26. What is the problem with thinking of family members from 9/11 (or any tragedy) as a single group? Is there room to consider diversity of class, politics, age, faith and represent all fairly?
Amy Waldman’s website
Lit Lovers book discussion questions
Seattle Public Library’s Reading Group Toolbox for The Submission
PBS interview with Amy Waldman
CBS Author Talk with Amy Waldman
Idaho Public TV interview with Amy Waldman
The New York Observer on The Submission
New York Times review of The Submission
Washington Post review of The Submission
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