Art, Faith, Politics, Prejudice – and the Mirror of Serendipity

Amy Waldman’s acclaimed debut novel The Submission came out in mid-August – only weeks before the country was about to commemorate the ten-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and the public opening of the National September 11 Memorial. The timing couldn’t have been better, as the book deals with a competition to build a memorial on the site of ground zero. The competition is contentious to begin with but turns uglier when the winning architect of the contest is discovered to be a Muslim American and the judges seek to retract their decision. For more about this thought-provoking  new novel, click the image above to read reviews in the catalog.

While browsing in the fiction collection this week, I chanced upon a book that appears to be a reverse image of The Submission, written by a French novelist in 1984.  Here is what the book jacket says about The House of the Prophets by Nicolas Saudray:

Marsania, a fictitious Middle Eastern country, is the exotic setting for this haunting and powerful contemporary tale. The House of the Prophets is the moving story of one man’s dream of interfaith peace and tolerance endangered by religious fanaticism and the equally violent response it evokes.

At once beautiful and dangerous, vivid and chilling, Marsania is a complex, pluralistic society, seething with religious and revolutionary turmoil. The government has established an architectural competition for a mosque to be called “The House of the Prophets.” Gabriel, a young, idealistic architect and member of the Christian community, returns to his Moslem homeland from the United States, where he has studied and begun a promising career. He is eager to enter the competition, envisioning the new mosque as a symbol of harmony in the Middle East.

Yet, upon his arrival, confronted by the rising tide of turbulence in Marsania, Gabriel finds himself a stranger in his own land. His friends, his family, his way of life are being ripped apart in an explosion of terror – an explosion that threatens Gabriel’s life, and could shatter his dream; for, because he is Christian, his design for The House of the Prophets could be rejected.

Through his quest for a better understanding, Gabriel is helped – or hindered – by a strong cast of unforgettable characters: a bohemian Jewish painter, a girl from a mountain tribe, a Christian millionaire, a Moslem fundamentalist, all taking part in the country’s destiny.

I’ve yet to read either book, but reading about The Submission, and my serendipitous encounter in the stacks with Saudray’s novel have added to my reflective mood as I ponder the opening of our new memorial.

Scott

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