A bold, epic debut novel set during the war and financial crisis that defined the beginning of our century
One September morning in 2008, an investment banker approaching forty, his career in collapse and his marriage unraveling, receives a surprise visitor at his West London townhouse. In the disheveled figure of a South Asian male carrying a backpack, the banker recognizes a long-lost friend, a mathematics prodigy who disappeared years earlier under mysterious circumstances. The friend has resurfaced to make a confession of unsettling power.
In the Light of What We Know takes us on a journey of exhilarating scope--from Kabul to London, New York, Islamabad, Oxford, and Princeton--and explores the great questions of love, belonging, science, and war. It is an age-old story: the friendship of two men and the betrayal of one by the other. The visitor, a man desperate to climb clear of his wrong beginnings, seeks atonement; and the narrator sets out to tell his friend's story but finds himself at the limits of what he can know about the world--and, ultimately, himself. Set against the breaking of nations and beneath the clouds of economic crisis, this surprisingly tender novel chronicles the lives of people carrying unshakable legacies of class and culture as they struggle to tame their futures.
In an extraordinary feat of imagination, Zia Haider Rahman has telescoped the great upheavals of our young century into a novel of rare intimacy and power.
In this debut novel of ambitious scope, Rahman crafts a portrait of a post-9/11 world from the perspective of a man who is simultaneously an insider and an outsider among the rich and powerful. When Zafar, an Oxford-educated Bangladeshi mathematician from humble beginnings, shows up at the door of an old friend, an investment banker whose career and marriage are falling apart, he begins a circuitous confession of a mysterious crime, a confession that takes us through Zafar's life from his career in law to his courtship of a woman from old money to his foray into the rebuilding of Afghanistan. Zafar tells his story out of chronological order, in meandering fragments full of digressions about history, mathematics, cartography, and cognitive science; as interesting and thoughtful as these asides are, they create a narrative with an unclear trajectory and stakes that are shadowy and ill-defined for much of the book. Only late does the novel's purpose become clear and Zafar's narrative gain resonance. Beneath it all, Rahman has written a simple human story about the betrayal of friends, the disappointment of lovers, and the pain of class identity, though this story is often lost amid Rahman's intellectual pyrotechnics.
Unfortunately dense & tedious
I really wanted to like this book. As an avid, educated reader, lofty concepts and deep philosophy don’t tend to scare me off. However, sadly, I gave up on this book part of the way through. I can appreciate the depth of thought that went into this, the cultural perspective(s), and the relevance of the story crafted. Unfortunately, it comes through as academic and mental “self-pleasuring”, to be politically correct. Obtuse and unapproachable…