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.
Arrival or Wrong Beginnings
Exile is strangely compelling to think about but terrible to experience. It is the unhealable rift forced between a human being and a native place, between the self and its true home: its essential sadness can never be surmounted. And while it is true that literature and history contain heroic, romantic, glorious, even triumphant episodes in an exile's life, these are no more than efforts meant to overcome the crippling sorrow of estrangement. The achievements of exile are permanently undermined by the loss of something left behind forever.
Edward W. Said, "Reflections on Exile"
Now when I was a little chap I had a passion for maps. I would look for hours at South America, or Africa, or Australia, and lose myself in all the glories of exploration. At that time there were many blank spaces on the earth, and when I saw one that looked particularly inviting on a map (but they all look like that) I would put my finger on it and say, "When I grow up ...
Debut novelist Zia Haider Rahman is a true polymath and the novel showcases his ample talent effectively. It tells both Zafar and the narrator’s stories, eventually focusing on Zafar alone. But as Zafar ruminates about an endless series of topics - from salamanders to Poggendorff’s illusion, to why flags sometimes fly at half-mast and more, one begins to wonder whether Rahman is trying a little too hard to make this a dazzling debut.
(Reviewed by Poornima Apte).
Full Review (1182 words).
"In the mess of Central Asia there are as many sides as there are opportunities to steal a march," Rahman writes in In The Light of What We Know. "There are no sides to tell us who is doing what, for whom, and why, only exigencies, strategies, short-term objectives, at the level of governments, regions, clans, families, and individuals: fractals of interests, overlapping here, mutually exclusive there, and sometimes coinciding." A 2013 New York Times article put the number of non-governmental organizations registered as working in Afghanistan at 2,320 employing around 90,000 people.
The central organization in the novel is called AfDARI, the Afghan Development, Aid, and Reconstruction Institute. This bears many similarities to The ...
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