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In the Light of What We Know [Hardcover]

Zia Haider Rahman
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
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Book Description

22 May 2014

One September morning in 2008, an investment banker approaching forty, his career in collapse and his marriage unravelling, receives a surprise visitor at his West London home. He struggles to place the dishevelled figure carrying a backpack, until he recognizes a friend from his student days, a brilliant man who disappeared years earlier under mysterious circumstances. The friend has resurfaced to make a confession of unsettling power.

Theirs is the age-old story of the bond between two men and the betrayal of one by the other. As the friends begin to talk, and as their room becomes a world, a journey begins that is by turns exhilarating, shocking, intimate and strange. Set against the breaking of nations and beneath the clouds of economic crisis, and moving between Kabul, New York, Oxford, London and Islamabad, In the Light of What We Know tells the story of people wrestling with unshakeable legacies of class and culture, and pushes at the great questions of love, origins, science, faith and war.

In an extraordinary feat of imagination, Zia Haider Rahman has woven the seismic upheavals of our young century into a novel of rare compassion, scope, and courage.


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Picador (22 May 2014)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 1447231228
  • ISBN-13: 978-1447231226
  • Product Dimensions: 15.3 x 23.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 25,291 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

The big read with the big answers . . . Here comes a novel capable of taking back the No 1 spot: Zia Haider Rahman's debut In the Light of What We Know. . . At its heart, the book is a story of two friends making their way in the world. Theirs is a dizzying voyage that touches on many of the key issues of our time. (Sunday Times)

Dazzling . . . astonishingly achieved . . . Rahman proves himself a deep and subtle storyteller . . . a novel unashamed by many varieties of knowledge-its characters talk, brilliantly, about mathematics, philosophy, exile and immigration, warfare, Wall Street and financial trading, contemporary geopolitics, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, English and American society, Islamic terrorism, Western paternalism, Oxford and Yale. Isn't this kind of thinking-worldly and personal, abstract and concrete, essayistic and dramatic-exactly what the novel is for? How it justifies itself as a form? Rahman uses his novel to think hard and well, chiefly about connections among class, knowledge, and belonging. 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 The New Yorker)

This debut novel by Zia Haider Rahman, a Bangladeshi-born British writer who has worked as both an investment banker and an international human-rights lawyer, has been hailed in America as a "modern classic" and "the first truly great book of the new century". It is certainly an ambitious and extraordinary achievement . . . Pre-eminently a novel of ideas, the book overflows with sparkling essays on free will, the perception of time, the nature of memory, maps, flags, etymology and the axioms of mathematics . . . A novel about the entwining of politics and love and the painful quest for identity. As a meditation on the penalties of exile, the need for roots and the ways in which anger can consume a thoughtful man slighted by prejudice, this is a dazzling debut. (Sunday Times)

Bristling 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 . . . It is, though, in the shattered figure of the novel's protagonist, Zafar, that the book finds its heart . . . 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. (Observer)

[An] unsettling and profound debut novel . . . The book's depth is utterly absorbing, its stories as real in their effect as they are illusory . . . It is a dizzying array not merely of biographical episodes, but of different kinds of fiction and fictional character. And this, ultimately, appears to be the hugely impressive novel's central ambition; to demonstrate that the gathering of stories, the marshalling of facts, the patient documenting of all the available evidence does indeed take us somewhere - but it cannot take us everywhere. (Guardian)

Brilliant and heartbreaking, In the Light of What We Know is the first truly great book of the new century. (Ceridwen Dovey, author of BLOOD KIN: A NOVEL)

This formidable novel unpacks friendship, betrayal, unknowability - and includes an astute take on Englishness, on class, on mathematical theory, human rights, and whether people can trust their own perception of the world (Observer)

Here it is, the vast and brilliant debut novel of our time for which readers have been waiting. Set against the backdrop of economic crises and the war in Afghanistan, Zia Haider Rahman's novel about a troubled friendship between two men-one born in the United States to well-placed parents from Pakistan, and the other born in Bangladesh-is deeply penetrating and profoundly intimate, as if made by a muralist whose heart belongs to the details. In the Light of What We Know is a novel of startling vision, written in a prose that's as strong and bold as it is impeccable. Who's the true heir to such greats as George Orwell and V.S. Naipaul? It's Zia Haider Rahman. (Richard McCann, author of MOTHER OF SORROWS)

A splendidly enterprising debut (Wall Street Journal)

A strange and brilliant novel . . . I was surprised it didn't explode in my hands (Amitava Kumar New York Times Book Review)

The main reason to get excited over Rahman's emerging presence as a writer are his sentences, ramifying and unraveling to bring in more and more ideas between full-stops in a way that few still alive can command (The Daily Beast)

From the Inside Flap

One September morning in 2008, an investment banker approaching forty, his career in collapse and his marriage unravelling, receives a surprise visitor at his West London home. He struggles to place the dishevelled figure carrying a backpack, until he recognizes a friend from his student days, a brilliant man who disappeared years earlier under mysterious circumstances. The friend has resurfaced to make a confession of unsettling power.

Theirs is the age-old story of the bond between two men and the betrayal of one by the other. As the friends begin to talk, and as their room becomes a world, a journey begins that is by turns exhilarating, shocking, intimate and strange. Set against the breaking of nations and beneath the clouds of economic crisis, and moving between Kabul, New York, Oxford, London and Islamabad, In the Light of What We Know tells the story of people wrestling with unshakeable legacies of class and culture, and pushes at the great questions of love, origins, science, faith and war.

In an extraordinary feat of imagination, Zia Haider Rahman has woven the seismic upheavals of our young century into a novel of rare compassion, scope, and courage.


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not to be taken lightly 23 May 2014
By Laura T VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I was surprised to see how overwhelmingly positive all the reviews of this novel were so far, and while I don't completely disagree with them, I thought I would offer a different perspective. This novel focuses on a single man: Zafar, born in rural Bangladesh and rising to a position of privilege via an Oxford education to become a derivatives trader and later, to work for the UN in Afghanistan. Zafar's story is narrated by his unnamed friend; still an investment banker, this friend, who met Zafar at Oxford, is surprised to find Zafar on his doorstep years after he had disappeared. Although he shares with Zafar a common experience of racial prejudice in Britain, his background is very different; the grandson of the Pakistani ambassador to the US, he was born in America. Hence, he is unable to connect with Zafar's continuing anger as he remembers his struggle to navigate 'class-ridden' British society, and his sense of being a continual outsider, even as he takes on official positions of great responsibility and prestige.

As an intellectual experiment, this novel is continuously fascinating. James Wood's excellent review in the New Yorker, which has already been referenced by a number of the reviewers here, rightly reflects on its exploration of the uses of knowledge. As Wood notes, Rahman is interested in exploring why a certain kind of knowledge leads to a certain kind of power, and how knowing the right things, even if you know very little else, can take you far in the world. Zafar, it's evident early in the novel, is not only well-educated in formal terms but an obsessive autodidact; he continuously tells his friend titbits of knowledge that never fail to fascinate.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A lot of words..... 4 Jun 2014
By Amanda Jenkinson TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Kindle Edition
I seem to be out of step with most readers on this one. The novel has garnered an amazing number of very positive and laudatory reviews, which completely puzzled me when I read them after finishing – or rather not finishing – the book. I admit to having skipped large chunks of it, so perhaps it is unfair of me to pass judgement, as I can see that others have spent much time reading and pondering on this very long and complex novel. However, pass judgment on it I do, for it totally failed to engage me. It’s certainly a literary novel par excellence, and a clever novel of ideas, covering an enormous and unwieldy range of subjects. But I found it sprawling and disjointed, with the narrative constantly going off course, and with no clear trajectory. And with far too many footnotes.
The novel focuses on Zafar, born in rural Bangladesh, who rises through his intelligence and hard work, to a position of some prominence. Long-time friends with a wealthy Pakistani investment banker, he turns up on his doorstep one morning, dirty and dishevelled, and in a long narrative relates his adventures, all set against a turbulent backdrop of political upheaval and economic crisis. Ranging from Kabul to London to Islamabad, and all stops in between, exploring themes from love to science to war to knowledge and many others, this is a hugely ambitious, comprehensive and wide-ranging novel, even bringing in Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem (although it lost me completely at that point) and this sprawling meandering book, full of twists and turns and with epigraphs at the beginning of each chapter, presumably to emphasise the author’s erudition. I just found it so full of…well, talking, endless talking that after a while just wanted Zafar to, basically, shut up.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but a little odd and annoying 1 Jun 2014
By hfffoman TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This is an ambitious and strange novel telling the story of an investment banker and branching out to cover an epic range of themes. It links ideas on mathematics, philosophy, society, psychology, nature and nurture in clever ways. It brings in financial crisis, the geo-politics of Afghanistan and Bangladesh as well as mathematical theorems and their relevance to everyday life, and how bright mathematics students become bankers and then contribute to financial collapse. The themes were interesting and sometimes fascinating.

Unfortunately, the fascination was worn thin by the narrative style. There were too many diversions into small details of people and events that had no real relevance as though the author had lost focus, rambling rather than writing a narrative. Although I read all the way to the end, I only did so because I was trying to give it the benefit of the doubt. To make is worth reading this number of pages a novel needs, in my view, a better narrative structure.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars In search of lux et veritas 2 July 2014
By MUN13
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
In the Light of What We Know is the debut novel of Zia Haider Rahman, an investment banker turned civil rights lawyer turned writer.
Haider writes about the complicated lives of his two central characters, Zafar and his friend. The latter being the unnamed narrator of the story. The two main characters first cross paths at Oxford University while studying mathematics.
Zafar comes from the backstreets of London, his father 'the help' as Zafar describes him. The narrator, whose name is never revealed, is the grandchild of a former Pakistani diplomat; his parents are wealthy citizens belonging to the elite class.
This wide social difference between the two friends sets the tone of the book as the narrator tries to patch up the story of what Zafar has been up to between his sudden disappearance eight years ago before turning up at his friend's house one fine day.
The two friends are brilliant mathematicians, the narrator having moved on to become an investment banker, alas a rogue one, and Zafar prodding the threads of society as a lawyer and then development 'adviser'.
The two friends are not merely highly educated but persons with a high level of intellect – Zafar more than the narrator – to whom knowledge of this world is a central way of thinking. For in laying out his story Haider uses a complex and rather cumbersome story telling method as the narrator pieces together Zafar's missing time.
The book is ridden with epigraphs, footnotes, extracts, quotations and phrases from other men, other books and other writings. For a while it seems a bit overwhelming. After all, starting each chapter in a book with three epigraphs can be a tiny bit misleading sometimes. One can wonder how or what to wonder about this.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
A beautiful, epic book - made me think more than any book has in a few years.
Published 8 days ago by Holly Kilroy
5.0 out of 5 stars A great book!
An excellent book! I can thoroughly recommend.
Published 19 days ago by Jenny
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Near perfect
Published 23 days ago by M.K. VAN DEN BERG
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Goods as advertised, received promptly
Published 1 month ago by Mr. Trevor Hughes
3.0 out of 5 stars A bit hard going
This is quite a hard novel, not one to be embarked on lightly. It plays with ideas from Maths and Psychology against the backdrop of the modern world although the plot itself isn't... Read more
Published 2 months ago by joc66
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing
Over length, loads of faux profundity, no real insights to anything, desperately in need of structure and a really good, strong editor.
Published 2 months ago by Amazon Customer
3.0 out of 5 stars a book I had to finish!
Interesting would be the best word to describe this book. I learnt a lot about post -colonial politics in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Read more
Published 2 months ago by frances
1.0 out of 5 stars Sadly the book let itself down because of the constant ...
Sadly the book let itself down because of the constant foot notes which were apparently not important to read, but went on for pages a time.
Published 2 months ago by E. Chittenden
3.0 out of 5 stars What is going on???
On one hand, this book is everything I'd hoped it would be, a far reaching, sweeping, multi-national novel about our times and troubles, with a load of theory and maths thrown in. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Book Critic
2.0 out of 5 stars overhyped
At page 200, I gave up. The book was too boring to contemplate reading the rest. The characters are dull and nothing of any interest had happened. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Mr. K. H. Cobb
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