Category Archives: Bangladeshi authors

In the Light of What we Know by Zia Haider Rahman

InthelightIn The Light of What we Know is a big book. Not simply long, at more than 500 pages, but one that is crammed with ideas and topics. From mathematical theories, and mapping techniques to religion, the war in Afghanistan, relief aid and the banking crisis, Zia Haider Rahman’s debut novel ranges far and wide.

Many of the topics are introduced as digressions from the main narrative in which two old friends meet in London after many years apart. One of them, Zafar, is a child born into poverty in Bangladesh, the other has a privileged upbringing as the grandson of Pakistan’s ambassador to the US. Friends from their days at Oxford university where they both studied mathematics, and from a short spell as financial experts in Wall Street. The book opens with a dishevelled man (who later we find is Zafar) turns up unannounced at the West London home of his former friend and proceeds over the course of three months to reveal what happened to him in the intervening years.

Some of the digressions are more interesting than others. One, presented in the form of an extended footnote complete with diagrams, relates a discussion on the ways cartographers misrepresent the actual size of countries.  Another explained how the British national flag was designed to overcome a known problem of illusion with symmetrical lines.  Rahman’s point is that truth is elusive; some things are true though it isn’t possible to prove that this is the case.

By the time I’d reached the half way mark in this book however my enthusiasm for this narrative style waned significantly as they intruded on the trajectory of the narrative. I started skipping paragraphs (never a good sign) and then just lost patience with Rahman’s approach.

So disappointing. This is a book that has attracted plaudits from many esteemed reviewers, culminating in its inclusion in the Folio Prize contenders. I admired Rahman’s ambition and his desire to convey something important but ultimately just didn’t find the reading experience enjoyable.  This was an author who seemed to be having more fun writing the book than I was having actually reading it.  Actually Rahman’s own words express my feeling perfectly:

… it had become clear that he had a story to tell, a disclosure by parts. There were the digressions, the tangents, the close analyses, and broad reflections — all deviations from a central line. I am convinced now that nothing in his account was out of place nothing extraneous, even if at times it seemed incomplete and obtuse. If I am left with the sensation of being manipulated, then it also appears to me there was a method and, behind that, a purpose.

First Book of 2015

You know how some mornings you wake up with what you think is a brilliant idea?. Some weeks ago I thought it would be interesting to get a sense of what all my blogging friends are reading on day 1 of the New Year. Opening my computer later that day however it was to discover that the idea was such a good one, it had already been taken. Sheila at Book Journey beat me to it with her First Book of the Year 2015 feature. What else could I do but join in graciously?

bookertalkThe book I chose  to take across the threshold from 2014 to 2015 combines my interest in writers from outside the British/American literary canon and a determination to keep the ethos of the public library alive.

In the Light of What We Know by the Bangladesh-born author Zia Haider Rahmen is a story of a bond between two men who met as students and remained close until one of them, Zafar, disappeared in mysterious circumstances. One September morning in 2008 Zafar turns up unannounced and dishevelled, at the doorstep of his former friend and begins to reveal just what’s happened to him in the intervening years.

Rahmen has been gathering much critical acclaim since his novel was published early in  2014. Some reviewers likened it to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, others to Grahame Greene’s novels of dislocation. The Guardian newspaper reviewer called it “epic and intensely moving”; the New Yorker described it as “a dazzling, astonishment achievement”  and the Daily Telegraph picked it as one of the best books of the year, shortly after the judges of the Folio Prize long listed the novel for the 2015 award. The more I read about this book, the more I wanted to get to read it myself.

Fortunately my reserve in the library came through just in time. Having spent much of the last five months campaigning to keep our small local library open (the battle is still ongoing) I am trying to use the service as much as I can. It therefore seemed highly appropriate to make my first book of the year one that I acquired via the library service.

What’s your first book of 2015?

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