Amy Waldeman

As the saying goes, funerals are for the living. A corollary: Memorials are for politicians and the special-interest groups who lobby them. Who decides what Civil War general gets commemorated in an Atlanta park? What dead Indian chief is selected for bronze immortality here in Seattle? And in New York City, soon after 9/11, what design—all submitted anonymously in a juried competition—should be built at Ground Zero? That's the starting point for Amy Waldeman's wildly acclaimed novel The Submission (Picador, $15), published last year and now the subject of Seattle Public Library's "Seattle Reads" program. A journalist who's written for The New York Times, Waldeman clearly understands the dynamics of power in that city, how protests are organized and talk-radio tirades directed at the ears of elected leaders and their appointees. The latter include the memorial jury, where one wealthy 9/11 widow finds that other grieving families don't share her refined taste. She and the other jurors opt for a walled garden whose architect, after the votes are counted, is revealed to be a Muslim-American born in Virginia. Though secular in every outward respect, Mohammad Khan is soon made a symbol of terrorism by The New York Post and anti-Islamic lobbying groups. The jurors, led by a retired banker, try to cling to principle but find that political support only goes so far. The public may be bigoted and unreasonable, but the public gets you elected or cast out of office. Khan becomes an indignant pinball in a politicized process, and The Submission is a fascinating, engrossing study in good intentions gone wrong. (See spl.org for Waldman's branch library appearances on Thurs. and Sat.) BRIAN MILLER

Fri., May 4, 7 p.m., 2012

 
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