In the Light of What We Know

Zia Haider Rahman. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $28 (512p) ISBN 978-0-374-17562-7
In this debut novel of ambitious scope, Rahman crafts a portrait of a post-9/11 world from the perspective of a man who is simultaneously an insider and an outsider among the rich and powerful. When Zafar, an Oxford-educated Bangladeshi mathematician from humble beginnings, shows up at the door of an old friend, an investment banker whose career and marriage are falling apart, he begins a circuitous confession of a mysterious crime, a confession that takes us through Zafar's life from his career in law to his courtship of a woman from old money to his foray into the rebuilding of Afghanistan. Zafar tells his story out of chronological order, in meandering fragments full of digressions about history, mathematics, cartography, and cognitive science; as interesting and thoughtful as these asides are, they create 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. Beneath it all, Rahman has written a simple human story about the betrayal of friends, the disappointment of lovers, and the pain of class identity, though this story is often lost amid Rahman's intellectual pyrotechnics. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 04/14/2014
Release date: 04/22/2014
Genre: Fiction
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