In the Light of What We Know (Rahman)

In the Light of What We Know 
Zia Haider Rahman, 2014
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
512 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780374175627

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. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Born in rural Bangladesh, Zia Haider Rahman was educated at Balliol College, Oxford, and at Cambridge, Munich, and Yale Universities. He has worked as an investment banker on Wall Street and as an international human rights lawyer. In the Light of What We Know is his first novel. (From the publisher.)

Book Reviews
Zafar of Rahman's strange and brilliant novel is at ease drawing sharp lessons from subjects as varied as derivatives trading and the role of metaphor in determining the fate of pigeons…Zafar can often find distance from his pain when, with uncommon precision and lucidity, he discusses theorems and analogies. And so one might conclude that his intelligence is what gives this book its edge. But that would be a mistake. The demonstration of his intelligence is only a ruse, a cover, hiding the anger in Zafar's heart. The book is long, but that length is justified by the effort expended to conceal his rage, to deflect the guilt Zafar feels at the violence of his emotion. I was surprised it didn't explode in my hands.
Amitava Kumar - New York Times Book Review

[B]ristling with ideas about mathematics and politics, history and religion, Rahman's novel also wrestles with the intricacies of the 2008 financial crash. It is encyclopedic in its reach and depth, dazzling in its erudition... In the Light of What We Know is an extraordinary meditation on the limits and uses of human knowledge, a heartbreaking love story and a gripping account of one man's psychological disintegration. This is the novel I'd hoped Jonathan Franzen's Freedom would be (but wasn't)—an exploration of the post-9/11 world that is both personal and political, epic and intensely moving.
Alex Preston - Guardian (UK)

[A] a sprawling and thrillingly ambitious debut novel…A cross between Herman Melville and David Foster Wallace as refracted through Graham Greene, In the Light of What We Know offers 500 pages of self-described "digressions" and "tangents" involving bracing, sometimes mind-blowing discussions of high math, theoretical physics, cognitive science, Central Asian politics, the English class system, the bloody birth of Bangladesh, Bach, literature, epistemology, collateralized debt obligations and the 2008 collapse of world markets... Rahman drives home that every story is a lie. But stories like this one can teach us great truths about the ways we see—and how much we therefore miss.
Mike Fischer - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Rahman’s novel [is] astonishingly achieved for a first book…Rahman proves himself a deep and subtle storyteller, with a very good eye for dramatic detail—the wounding stray comment, the surge of shame, the livid parable... In the Light of What We Know is what Salman Rushdie once called an "everything novel." It is wide-armed, hospitable, disputatious, worldly, cerebral. Ideas and provocations abound on every page.
James Wood - New Yorker

[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.... Rahman has written a simple human story... though this story is often lost amid Rahman's intellectual pyrotechnics.
Publishers Weekly

(Starred review.) The author's fascination with mathematics and the universe of ideas is contagious, and enriches the complex narrative about how we know the reality around us. Verdict: Despite some obvious plot devices, this ambitious debut novel has considerable depth and scope.... [J]am-packed with insights and observations. —Gwen Vredevoogd, Marymount Univ. Libs., Arlington, VA
Library Journal

(Starred review.) Rahman's narrative quickly takes flight, literally, moving from London and New York to Islamabad and Kabul and points beyond.... Rahman capably mixes a story that threatens to erupt into le Carré–like intrigue with intellectual disquisitions of uncommon breadth.... Rahman's is a quiet, philosophical novel of ideas, a meditation on memory, friendship and trust... Beautifully written.
Kirkus Reviews

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