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I had the pleasure of watching it through the browsing room window. Anyway.

The Submission!

I’m still not sure how much I like this book. Compared to Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close it was much harder for me to get through. I wasn’t drawn in,wasn’t captured, by any of the characters. I think it’s probably because of how the book didn’t delve too deep into the emotions of the characters. In books like Extremely Loud the author creates a unique emotional tone with his or her writing style, word choice, point of view, and so on. Books like Extremely Loud pull me along in with their desperation and hope–their constant poignancy. Being an emotional person, I easily attach myself to the characters in these stories. I find myself empathizing with them–the author’s carefully chosen words tightly grabbing hold of me with their hope and desperation.

In The Submission, the emotion is chaotic. It’s diverse. Myriad emotions all jostling through crowded New York City streets. But Waldman only gives us bits and pieces. A hint of heartache here and an outburst of resentment there. A desperate cry for acceptance and tolerance followed by a stubborn shout fueled by resentful loss. The personal complexities of Claire and Mo are explored more than other characters, but my heart didn’t move for them in a poignant way. At certain times, through certain dialogue or narrative, I was moved. But as I read the book I did not feel a strong emotional pull in a certain direction.

Despite not being a page-turner for myself, I do appreciate how the novel was written. In class we discussed how Waldman has written a very journalistic novel which, of course, comes from her experience as a journalist. She was a reporter in the years after 9/11 in NYC and was also sent to Afghanistan. She explains in this interview that she came to experience events of the aftermath from all sides–perspectives constantly shifting. Readers experience this in the Submission. One minute a reader will be experiencing Mo stubbornly refusing to explain himself  and then suddenly shifting to the perspective to stubborn Claire who will stop trying to get Mo to tell her what she wants to hear.

Despite all of their differences they do have that one thing in common–that stubbornness. It is the same for basically every character in the book. They all refuse  to back down from their stances and refuse to see things from other perspectives. But then, as we discussed, they often submit to social pressures. There is no true listening and true attempt of understanding. There is only blind stubbornness and blind submission when one feels pressure from the world.



Characters in this novel spend so much time trying to not give in to the wishes of others that they often lose themselves. One particular example of this is Mo and his beard:

“He had grown the beard to play with perceptions and misconceptions, to argue against the attempt to define him. If he shaved, would he be losing the argument or ending it? Was he betraying himself? That question  shook the hand holding the razor.” (213)

Mo has become so invested in how others perceive him. In moments like this he’s given in to pressures and expectations. He’s no longer doing things because he wants to–because it is true to his heart–but because of how he wishes to respond the the public. Both the decision to not shave and to shave show how he was almost allowing himself to be “reinvented by others, so distorted he couldn’t recognize himself” (293). Truly, I think, he was even contributed to the process. Mo fell in to the trap, into the reinvention of himself. However, he shows that it’s possible to get out of this. He shows that its always possible to return to yourself. “And so he had traced his parents’ journey in reverse: back to India, which seemed a more promising land” (293).

-To answer his question of “would he be losing the argument or ending it…was he betraying himself?” can be answered with Claire’s statement on page 88… “If you let them change you, they’ve won.” And so Mo lost the moment he began to grow his beard. He changed himself to “argue against the attempt to define him.” Therefore, he’d already lost himself–before he even entered his submission to the contest.



-Back to the journalistic writing style. Waldman creates a very accurate portrayal of society in how she presents each character. Bits and piece of each character are shown. There are so many diverse and chaotic emotions and opinions  and they are all truthfully portrayed. Because of this, the book doesn’t seem to have a specific emotional pull. It’s more just social commentary, as in, this is how the world is. We are all complex and emotional human beings, but that complexity and emotion is hardly ever explored by others. It is often ignored. We are blind of partially blind to each other. Like journalism, we only see a portion of what is there.


I’d love comments on this, because I’m not sure how clearly I’ve made myself. I’m a bit sleep deprived, just like most everyone on this campus. I’d love to have some discussions through comments, though, if anyone would like to.

I’m also probably going to write another short post on this book, but for now I need to move on to another one of my main posts. I’ll either be posting next about The Reluctant Fundamentalist, The Things They Carried/Bearing Witness, or Let The Great World Spin. You’ll just have to wait and see! oooh suspense. oooh sentence fragment. oh my. I’ll also be writing a post about this class in general and how much I learned from it/how grateful I am for it–for JGB, for these books, and for all of you and your wonderful ideas and words.

One Response to “The sunset was beautiful this morning.”

  1. Erin says:

    I was struck by the fact that you compared this unfavorably to Extremely Loud and I started to wonder why – and I think I might have figured it out. In Extremely Loud, we were following a little boy who was sweet and endearingly awkward – more importantly, he had just lost his father. It is very easy to allow a book like Extremely Loud to “suck you in.” Meanwhile, in The Submission, we were reading from the perspective of adults. Whereas Oskar was delightfully innocent, these adults are not. They’re all flawed, and frankly, I was irritated reading from some of their perspectives.