A jury gathers in Manhattan to select a memorial for the victims of a devastating terrorist attack. Their fraught deliberations complete, the jurors open the envelope containing the anonymous winner's name – and discover he is an American Muslim. Instantly they are cast into roiling debate about the claims of grief, the ambiguities of art, and the meaning of Islam.
The memorial's designer is Mohammad Khan, an enigmatic, ambitious architect. His fiercest defender on the jury is its sole widow, the mediagenic Claire Burwell. But when the news of his selection leaks to the press, Claire finds herself under pressure from outraged family members and in collision with hungry journalists, wary activists, opportunistic politicians, fellow jurors, and Khan himself. All will bring the emotional weight of their own histories to bear on the urgent question of how to remember, and understand, a national tragedy.
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Exceptional debut ... a tale of complexity and tension...Waldman's prose is almost always pitch-perfect ... The characters are wholly realised and believable as individuals, but they also stand in for stories and conflicts that go beyond their own lives. - Guardian, Book of the Week
From this coup de théâtre Waldman skilfully spins out an ever-widening cast list...This is a deeply thoughtful and moving account of the myriad ways in which, when the towers came down, the US psyche became a casualty too. - Financial Times
An absorbing, accomplished debut...an intelligent, satisfying read - Sunday Times
The novel is punctuated with darkly comic details ... compelling ...Elegantly written and tightly plotted... [this] novel, at once lucid, illuminating and entertaining is a necessary gift. - New York Times Book Review
Panoramic in scope but thrillingly light on its feet ... A gripping, deeply intelligent novel - Marie Claire
There's nothing meek about Amy Waldman's high-powered debut...a searching, cerebral novel with the pitch and pace of a thriller... Acute and exhilarating. - Daily Mail
In her magnetizing first novel, replete with searing insights andexquisite metaphors, Waldman, formerly a New York Times reporter and co-chief of the South Asia bureau, maps shadowy psychological terrain and a vast social minefield as conflicted men and women confront life-and-death moral quandaries within the glare and din of a media carnival. Waldman brilliantlydelineates the legacy of 9/11; the confluence of art, religion, and politics; the plexus between the individual and the group; and the glory of transcendent empathy in The Bonfire of the Vanities for ourtime. - Booklist, starred review
[A] poised and commanding debut novel...Waldman skillfully presents the perspectives of a handful of major characters...This is a remarkably assured portrait of how a populace grows maddened and confused when ideology trumps empathy. A stellar debut. Waldman's book reflects a much-needed understanding of American paranoia in the post-9/11 world. - Kirkus Review, starred review
A wrenching panoramic novel about the politics of grief in the wake of 9/11. -
Amy Waldman writes like a possessed angel. She also has the emotional smarts to write a story about Islam in America that fearlessly lasers through all our hallucinatory politics with elegant concision. This is no dull and worthy saga; it's a literary breakthrough that reads fast and breaks your heart. -
Waldman imagines a toxic brew of bigotry in conflict with idealism in this frighteningly plausible and tightly wound account of what might happen if a Muslim architect had won a contest to design a memorial at the World Trade Center site...Waldman keenly focuses on political and social variables...As misguided outrage flows from all corners, Waldman addresses with a refreshing frankness thorny moral questions and ethical ironies without resorting to breathless hyperbole. - Publisher’s Weekly, starred review
A wonderful novel which challenges your beliefs. - The Sun
Amy Waldman was co-chief of the South Asia bureau of The New York Times. Her fiction has appeared in The Atlantic and the Boston Review and is anthologized in The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2010. She lives with her family in Brooklyn. This is her first novel.