Monday, May 7, 2012
Two years after 9/11 a committee is selected to review blind submissions for a memorial to be placed in the location of the original twin towers. The jury selects a beautiful garden with lovely imagery as it's selection and is excited about reaching a consensus--until it opens the envelope revealing the name of the designer. It's a Muslim name. A journey through the lives of several integral characters in this story takes you to Little Bangladesh in Brooklyn with an illegal immigrant widow, a wealthy home in Chappaqua with a jury member and widow, and the now-nomadic existence of an architect who submitted a design about which he cares deeply but doesn't feel he must defend his ancestry in order to qualify as an American.
This book was just incredible. My heart broke for each of the characters profiled in this book at one point or another. Ms. Waldman brings out the incredibly difficult "liberal guilt," where on the outside one claims to be fair but on the inside feels the same prejudices that "conservatives" are only too willing to say out loud. (Please note: This is not and never will be a political blog, so this is not meant in any way to spark a political discussion, only to relay feelings about and a description of the book.) It turns out we all engender bias and fear and some people are just too afraid to say it out loud. I got angry at the bigotry of some characters while at the same time felt guilty because I understand that at times I too harbor some of the same fears. Isn't that what can be the most beautiful part of a book and getting lost in it--when it forces you to look inside yourself and confront parts of yourself that make you uncomfortable?
Ms. Waldman's writing is beautiful without you even noticing; she creates such empathy for her characters in you, the reader, and I didn't want to let them go at the end. I wanted to hold them tucked away in my heart so that they couldn't feel the pain of life. But that is not something I can do, and neither can you, dear reader. You can, however, hurry to pick up this book and immerse yourself in the internal debate about what is right and what is not and who gets to decide.