|Final jacket cover|
I picked this book up because I was intrigued by the premise and the sly double entendre of the title. Two years after 9-11, a committee hand-picked by the governor of New York, including a woman widowed on that fateful day, selects a beautiful and peaceful garden design among the blind submissions as a memorial for the World Trade Center. Big Reveal the First: the winning designer, though American, is a Muslim man. Big Reveal the Second: the winning design may or may not be inspired by historic Islamic gardens thought to be the origin of the martyrs' paradise concept.
Although this book was not what I wanted it to be (it was mostly head, not much heart) it was an interesting read throughout, and a timely one, too, with the tenth anniversary of the 9-11 tragedy fast approaching. Though the end in particular was not what I was craving (for America & its politicians to do the morally right thing), it was both satisfying and more realistic. Along the way we get multiple characters' perspectives: Claire, the widow on the committee; Paul, the chair of the committee; Mohammad ("Mo" to his friends), the winning designer whose story gets leaked to the press; Asra, an illegal Bangladeshi woman whose husband also died in the towers that day; Alyssa, a tabloid journalist whose ambition to scoop any aspect of this story far outstrips her humanity; and a sad-sack fellow whose brother died in the towers and whose mother thinks the wrong son died. Although I suspect most readers who pick up this book will feel true sympathy for very few characters, Waldman does a very good job of presenting this varied cast with as much empathy as possible--all, perhaps, except for the tabloid journalist and the politicians whose machinations twist the brouhaha into something much uglier than it needs to be.
This book is published in late August from FSG and I received an ARC of it at my request from my sales rep. The ARC cover, ivory, with cutouts of a garden as seen through a Moorish window, is vastly different from the final, more somber cover, which puts me in mind very much of The New Yorker issue design immediately following September 11, 2011. I think Waldman, a journalist for over a decade, has carried off her debut novel with great credit to her profession.