Saturday, January 12, 2013

This is Why I'm a Librarian!

I was going to title this posting, "This is Why I Fear Religion," but having spent yesterday with a friend who is working on being the change we want to see in the world, (thank you Beth) I decided that I, too, should put a positive spin rather than a negative one on the massively successful book discussion we held at the library the other day.

The book was Amy Waldman's The Submission, a title I've discussed here before and one that knocked me out when I first requested to review it for Library Journal. I've since read it twice more and have shared it with others. 37 people turned out Thursday to talk about this controversial first novel by the former New York Times middle east bureau chief.

The novel centers around Mo (Mohammed) Kahn, an American architect whose anonymous entry in the contest to design New York City's 9/11 memorial, was chosen as the winner after a contentious battle between Claire, a 9/11 widow, and an artist with an agenda of her own.
If you are old enough to remember the dust up that surrounded a very similar situation when Asian scuptor Maya Lin's entry was chosen for the Vietnam Memorial in DC, then you'll know that emotions ran high then and run high in this novel too, simply because of Mr. Kahn's Muslim moniker. They also ran high in our meeting room!

I believe that Ms. Waldman intended her book to help us readers confront and examine our own prejudices. She did a superlative job! To their credit, the women in our group were perhaps honest to a fault. I'll admit to being taken aback by one lady though, who's been coming for several years now and has always seemed open to being tested by uncomfortable literature.

She asked the group why American Muslims have not apologized for 9/11, indicating that she's still waiting and, judging by her body language, is still irate! She then posited that the Koran exhorts followers to kill for their religion. I worried that I might lose control of the discussion as a few others began mumbling agreement.

Then I looked at Beth. She spoke in an almost Zen-like manner, pointing out that, in fact, though she didn't believe it was necessary, many Islamic organizations apologized profusely for the horror of that day. We were then able to move on as other astute readers noted that the United States has not apologized for slavery, came late to the table in reparations for Native Americans, and certainly can't be proud of Manzanar and Hiroshima. Whew! Now, back to the book.

We discussed the similarities between the Koran, the Bible, and the Torah, all purported to be the word of God. We talked of the immigrants who also worked in the twin towers and the families they left behind who feared coming out of the shadows to collect the money that was rightfully theirs. We spoke about terrorists and about the fact that reasoning with or trying to explain their behavior is a losing proposition.

One customer told of her agony as she waited for a phone call from her son who had had an appointment at Cantor-Fitzgerald that morning. After almost 12 years, she admitted that this is the first book she's been able to read that dealt with 9/11. She, too, had hoped for more from The Submission.

I found the writing to be perfection but many of us expressed disappointment with the ending. Twenty years later, the main characters had not managed to arrive at a deeper understanding of each other or their beliefs.Tragically realistic.

Someone asked the group, "if you were writing this novel, how would you prefer to have it end?" I could have kissed her!


Andrea said...

Sure wish I was there! Please give my regards to all of the book discussion folks!


Sallyb said...

Andrea!! They ask about you all the time. So glad to hear that you're reading me. Just sent you a gossipy email.