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In the Light of What We Know Paperback – 1 Jan 2015

3.6 out of 5 stars 96 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; Main Market Ed. edition (1 Jan. 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1447231236
  • ISBN-13: 978-1447231233
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 3.5 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (96 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 123,489 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


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)

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)

Rahman’s magisterial novel, which bulges with humanity and big ideas, was my favourite read of [2016]. As I have already written, "his story of two life-long friends – both students of mathematics, both from immigrant families – who find themselves variously caught up in the world financial crisis and the unravelling of post-9/11 Afghanistan, drills deeply and rewardingly into the grand themes of life: meaning, identity, loyalty, faith and family" (Stephen Curry Guardian)

Book Description

A bold, epic debut novel set during the war and financial crisis that defined the beginning of our century

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I need to work through my feelings on finishing this. I rarely write a review, and only when I have either really loved or hated a book.

I absolutely loved this book until shortly before the end. It has made me pause to think more than almost any book I've read. I was fascinated, intrigued and excited about how many ideas it threw up, and really felt that I was learning a lot as well. It was like being able to fly on the wings of someone else's intelligence. I found myself underlining whole sections in the (mistaken) hope that I might remember what was being said, and in some way enrich my mind. It was all so wonderfully articulate.

But then, when `the story' started becoming more important, and drawing to a conclusion, it totally lost me - and I don't know if this is my failing, or the writer's. Having been a master class in coherence ( indeed one of the main topics seemed to be the clarity and precision which Zafar and the narrator sought to bring to their discussions), why did they both suddenly become so coy about expressing themselves and saying what had happened - especially to Emily? Who made her pregnant? (Probably the narrator, but is it enough just to say "I did more than just see her."? What about the presumed rape? And I got totally frustrated trying to follow the machinations leading up to Crane's death and who was working for whom and why.

Does any of this matter? Well, when the book's title begins to seem totally ironic, when the author has shared with the reader what he knows about nearly every subject under the sun for over 500 pages, and the reader has invested so much time and energy in the book too - yes it does.
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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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Format: Paperback
I did not enjoy this book, although that may be as much my fault as the fault of the writer. I did reach the end, because after I had got to the halfway point I felt that I shouldn't waste all the effort I had put into it. But an effort it was, and in the end I didn't feel it was worth it. Mr Rahman clearly loves writing and words, but I got the impression that he got somewhat lost in his own passion for them. I don't want my books written in simplified Janet and John English, God forbid, but Mr Rahman's points (and I think he had some interesting ones to make) got completely lost in the writing process. Surely no-one actually speaks like Zafar was doing. He made the same points (I think) time and again, and some of his sentences could have been lifted straight out of an advanced English grammar. I had the feeling I often get with DIckens - too many words, and far too repetitive. I understand Dickens was paid by the installment which may well have caused the problem there, but I can't believe that was the case for Mr Rahman. The constant leaping around in the chronology of events drove me up the wall - by the end I had no idea how many times Zafar had shuttled between London, Dhaka, Islamabad and Afghanistan, and had largely ceased to care. I don't have a problem with non-linear narratives - I have read Niffenegger's 'The Time Traveller's Wife' and Mitchell's 'Cloud Atlas', among others, with great enjoyment - but here it seemed unnecessary, confusing, and pretentious. The latter epithet I would apply to the novel in its entirety.

A shame, because I think there is a good novel waiting to be written about the conflict of cultures, religions and ethics between East and West. Perhaps it has already been written and I've missed it. Sadly, I am sure that 'In The Light Of What We Know' isn't that novel. Whether my disappointment is part my own fault or not - I may just have picked the wrong book - I won't be hurrying to read Mr Rahman again.
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