Jun, 2017 - In the Light of What We Know


In the Light of What We Know by Zia Haider Rahman


In the Light of What We Know, published in 2014, is a debut novel from Zia Haider Rahman.  Set in 2008, it deals with the friendship of Zafar and the narrator (who remains nameless) that goes back to their days together at Oxford in the 1980s where both were students of mathematics.  Zafar turns up at the narrator’s home in Kensington, South London, rather worse for wear.  He moves into the narrator’s spare room and slowly the story of his life unfurls through their conversations and references to events recorded in his notebooks. 


During this process many compelling issues are dealt with: warfare, immigration, Wall Street and financial trading, social classes, exile, Oxford and Yale, English and American society, Islamic terrorism, Western paternalism and contemporary geopolitics among others.  Both men have women in their lives; the narrator is married unhappily to Meena and Zafar is in an impossible relationship with Emily.  In spite of their differing backgrounds both men seem to have reached points in their lives where things are not going well.  As the story unravels so do their lives.  Above all else the two characters value knowledge, but has it helped their lives?

In the Light of What We Do Not Know might have been an appropriate title for our group as the book raised so many questions.  We were not even sure about the ending and were left wondering what really happened.  The story unfolds in fits and starts, sometimes in the narrator’s voice, sometimes in Zafar’s, which we found at times confusing.  Events would be alluded to and then passed over.  They would crop up again further along with more details being revealed.  The plot did not follow a straight chronological pattern, which led to some frustration.  We were not impressed at the treatment of women, which seemed to be rather superficial and lacking in compassion.  Nevertheless, Rahman has a masterful command of language and uses it deftly to create suspense.  He is extensively well read, constantly infusing his writing with references to authors and literature.  It is a book that makes you think about the issues mentioned earlier and so is perhaps worth a read for that reason.  Be prepared to ponder.



Leslie Muri