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In the Light of What We Know

3.67  ·  Rating details ·  3,758 ratings  ·  561 reviews
A bold, epic debut novel set during the war and financial crisis that defined the beginning of our century

An investment banker approaching forty, his career collapsing and his marriage unraveling, receives a surprise visitor at his West Londontown house. Confronting the disheveled figure of a South Asian male carrying a backpack, the banker recognizes a long-lost college
Hardcover, 497 pages
Published April 22nd 2014 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published March 4th 2014)
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Gordon Paisley I don't think she was really involved--that would change the entire tone of the story. I think that it was more fundamentally about a woman (Emily)…moreI don't think she was really involved--that would change the entire tone of the story. I think that it was more fundamentally about a woman (Emily) who didn't really know what she wanted that was part of the backdrop of the other elements you mentioned.
I believe his crime was raping Emily.

Although, as I write that, if you invoke the rule of the unreliable narrator, one might conclude that the narrator had raped her also when he got her pregnant, and for some reason Emily never accused him. (less)
Sena Di I think so. When Zafar confronted him, he tried to apologize and give an explanation.…moreI think so. When Zafar confronted him, he tried to apologize and give an explanation. (less)

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Violet wells
First of all, bear with me as I’m writing this with a Christmas day hangover!

In the Light of What we Know has inspired me to reread Sebald’s Austerlitz with which it shares many similarities, not least of all the weathered tone of its voice and its duality of narrators – the first person authorial voice acting as a mediator for Zafar, the true subject of the novel. It also has similarities with The Great Gatsby in as much as a privileged but rather prosaic individual is narrating the story of
Paul Bryant
Oct 17, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: abandoned, novels
New authors take note : there IS a market for your plotless meandering portentous musings! Don’t despair, just because you don’t have any kind whatsoever of a story. I appreciate that there are so many 4 & 5 star reviews of this large novel that speaking ill of it seems like farting in a cathedral. But there are also enough jerks who have one and 2-starred it and in their company I find much solace – I will take the liberty of quoting a couple of GR disbelievers :

It's verbalistic, snobbishly
Jul 26, 2014 added it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to ·Karen· by: James Murphy
My personal ice-bucket challenge

It's the voice that does it, takes you by the hand and whispers in your ear, promising delights, seducing with a grace and ease, persuading you that this is someone you want to spend time with, hours of your time, the next five hundred pages of your time. Yes, this is someone whose company I will enjoy.
That, at least, is how it usually would work.
Not here. Initially, I thought oof. Great cumbersome wadges of epigraphs head every chapter, and then the voice of the
Jun 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
Race. Class. War. Colonialism. Memory. Choice. Epistemology. This is a Big Ideas book. In some ways it collapses under the weight of all that meaning, as well as the unnecessary complications of its structure. Yet I would still argue that, even though it’s a debut novel, it takes its place in a rich tradition of refined immigrant-British literature, alongside Kazuo Ishiguro, Vikram Seth and Salman Rushdie. (There is even something of an old-fashioned English sensibility to it – some of the most ...more
Marxist Monkey
May 31, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This novel is every bit as good as James Wood says it is. If you have the slightest interest in the consequences of the 20th century (wait, that's a ridiculous way to put it), if you have the slightest interest in the consequences of colonialism (that's not right either), if you have the slightest interest in the intersections of mathematics, physics, finance capital, the crisis of 2008, masculine egocentrism, South Asian politics, the dominance of Western ways of knowing, the arrogance of ...more
Jun 04, 2014 rated it it was ok
I seem to be out of step with most readers on this one. The novel has garnered an amazing number of very positive and laudatory reviews, which completely puzzled me when I read them after finishing – or rather not finishing – the book. I admit to having skipped large chunks of it, so perhaps it is unfair of me to pass judgement, as I can see that others have spent much time reading and pondering on this very long and complex novel. However, pass judgment on it I do, for it totally failed to ...more
James Murphy
May 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Remember how excited you were when you discovered Pynchon? Remember how proud you were when you finished The Recognitions? When you first read Ulysses or Moby-Dick with understanding? Because we've read many of the world's acclaimed works and having, through long years of reading, hammered a receptacle of appreciation together on the anvils of many great books and intoxicating glory days of reads and rereads, we (or I at least) often have trouble finding fiction that satisfies. And if a novel ...more
May 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing
If you like W.G. Sebald, if you like Elsa Morante, David Foster Wallace, Jean Rhys, and J.M. Coetzee, you will love Zia Haider Rahman's debut novel. No novel written in the past decade has been as sweeping in scope, as devastating in honesty, as heartbreaking in intensity as In the Light of What We Know. None has examined the predetermination of class so fearlessly, and none has grasped the moment we live in with such crystal clarity, showing us how little we know about our world, the people we ...more
May 01, 2015 marked it as dnf-did-not-finish
Well, this is my first DNF book ever, which is kind of insane. I was trying to push through but at this point I'm not even halfway through and it's not getting better, so here we are.
I can see how the story is beautiful and great to some people, but it wasn't that for me. The narrative is all out of order, which for me was really confusing, and there were a lot of British politics/class systems mentioned in passing but not explained as a major part of the story and those are things I know very
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
For the educated reader, this book has a couple of seductive qualities. First, the author’s writing – by which I mean his use of language – is good; read a sample and you’ll be convinced this is quality literary fiction. Second, he has an apparently encyclopedic knowledge of a wide range of subjects, which he does not hesitate to share at length. There's something rather charming about a book in which characters are sitting around chatting about history, and someone says, "There was a telegram ...more
Stacey Falls
Jul 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I actually wish I could give this book more than 5 stars.

It is the best book I have read in a long time. Possibly the best book I have ever read.

"Everything new is on the rim of our view, in the darkness, below the horizon, so that nothing new is visible but in the light of what we know."

Who are we if not a collection of our experiences and the choices we have made? But why do we make the choices we do? "What autonomy of choice do you have if your preferences are so obviously conditioned by
Roger Brunyate
Jun 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: middle-east, politics
A Novel of Our Century

I originally titled this review of Zia Haider Rahman's extraordinary debut novel The Novel of the Century. I did not necessarily intend it as a value judgment, although it is surely one of the best books I have read since the year 2000. But it is a book of immense scope that manages to combine so many of the themes that have dominated public debate in our century: Islam, American neo-imperialism, and the financial recession just for starters. Or, as the narrator puts it at
Donovan Lessard
Mar 25, 2014 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Gratefully here I thought I had found an effective antidote to some lightweight trash recently published, like, for example, The Goldfinch.

But I was much disappointed: In the Light of What We Know is an unnecessarily complicated mishmash of Graham Greene, Joseph Conrad, W. G. Sebald, and several other modern and postmodern authors—all breathlessly listed elsewhere by supporting reviewers. It seems to have been written to display Rahman's ability to toss in literary allusions liberally throughout
May 18, 2014 rated it it was ok
Oh I really hate to give a highly rated book a low rating. When I first started reading it, I thought the writing was superb. And parts of it really were. It's beautiful.

A wealthy Pakistani (un-named) finds an old friend (Zafar) from Bangladesh on his doorstep one morning. He has a story to tell. The wealthy man decides the story needs to be documented so he gives Zafar a digital recorder for him to dictate his story to and then he transcribes it. (Really?) There was soooo much foreshadowing.
Dec 29, 2014 rated it it was ok
Uch. Another book written entirely for the critics, in which men sit around having Important Thoughts, disgorging uninterrupted Important Paragraphs about Important World Events and Significant Mathematical Concepts while ladies hover at the periphery to make them feel sad. It makes gestures towards the great 19th and early-mid 20th century English authors, but takes from them a fusty syntax and little else. Many, many other authors show their influence (W.G. Sebald and Richard Powers at the ...more
May 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
I have never felt compelled to write a book review until I read Zia Haider Rahman's extraordinary debut novel, "In Light of What We Know". My interest in this book was piqued after I came across James Wood's effusive review of it in the New Yorker, which led me to promptly purchase it.

In Light of What We Know is an "ideas novel" in the truest sense; its pages are filled with meditations and dissections of topics spanning class divide, epistemology, carpentry, the white man's burden, memory,
Jun 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A brilliant novel. Not since grad school have I read something that compelled me to go back and take notes, but this is a novel that is so full of contemplative launch pads that you can't seem to digest it all in one read. The story itself is one thing, but the telling of the story is far more seductive than the tale itself. Beginning with a narrator who remains nameless throughout the duration of the tale, I often found myself frequently having to double-check to see if it was the best friend ...more
Tanuj Solanki
The World is Not Enough

Parts of the review first appeared in The New Indian Express

Straight to the point: Zia Haider Rehman’s voluminous first novel, In The Light of What We Know, is a masterpiece. This is not to say that the book is without its flaws, but if a masterpiece is a novel that emotionally overwhelms the reader & gives them the feeling of having approached a truth crucial to their own lives, Rahman's book is just that.

It begins thus: In London, an investment banker of privileged
Nov 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing
There is no doubt that this is a very ambitious and though-provoking novel. It reminds me of Diller + Scofidio’s Blur Building (2002) which was nothing else than a suspended platform shrouded in a perpetual cloud of man-made fog. Ephemeral, quite beautiful but it offered scant protection from the elements. In fact you needed a raincoat to enter it. Similarly this novel recounts a life, a coalescence of contemporary lives, in supple, elegant prose. And it takes its time to do so. Yet the somewhat ...more
Caitlin Cramer
Apr 21, 2018 rated it did not like it
I often think of books as people. This book was a seemingly polite man on a long bus trip who told me a long and meandering story. I gave him some of my time, as he promised to reveal to me a world of knowledge about mathematics, the 2008 financial crisis, The War on Terror, and philosophy. I tried to be charitable while enduring his endless tangents, knowing that he was the product of a different culture. The longer I listened, I began to see a deep streak of misogyny and tendency to view women ...more
Jan 20, 2017 rated it did not like it
I hated this book. Two erudite blowhards talk at each other for 500 pages with no quotation marks and very little context clues as to who is speaking for this reader to follow. I found these two dudes excruciatingly dull and erudite. Absolutely nothing touched me in this book. (I'll be loads of fun at this book club.)
What a difficult, frustrating and exasperating novel, quite lyrical at turns but excessively dense – to the point where the sheer quantity of knowledge here quite overwhelms the book, which feels infinitely longer than what it actually is, and is an interminable read as a result.

It begins promisingly enough, with a down-and-out Zafar arriving on his best friend’s doorstep in London, to recount the story of his life, which runs the gamut of studying mathematics to shenanigans in Afghanistan.

Apr 26, 2015 rated it really liked it
I have to think very hard about what to make of this novel. It is extremely ambitious, beautifully written, and deals with the very gripping issues of contemporary politics and identity. On the other hand I can't say that it ends up living to its ambitions in the end; the beginning of the book and the grand expanses it promises to cover ultimately are never really reached. I want to say that the author writes a cheque that he can't cash; but that would be uncharitable. The end result is still ...more
Shaheen Ashraf-Ahmed
I waited a few days to write this review, because I really wanted to let the ideas it brought up percolate before sharing them. My first reaction was that I really enjoyed the novel; it is an intellectual delight when discussing anything but women. However, the gender politics really bother me [Spoiler alert]. The women in the novel are either detached or defined by violation of one kind or another: Zafar's biological mother has been raped; the Afghani girl is possibly raped; his foster mother ...more
May 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, audio Interesting interview with the author.

Terrific book. Very dense. Had to buy a copy, there is so much I wish to underline.

This is a brainy, beautifully written novel filled with insight. It is not a particularly easy read but it really gives you a lot to chew on, about exile, about our contentious and complicated times, about families. I thought of it as two first person narratives, one inside another. The narrator tells his story of his friend Zafar,
Paul Fulcher
Dec 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
An impressive debut novel, the sort of book that the phrases "novel of ideas", but also "flawed" and "baggy" were invented for.

The central character in the novel is Zafar, and although large parts of the novel are ostensibly told by him in the first person, what we are actually reading is the unnamed narrator, Zafar's old friend, recollection of his conversations with Zafar and his own re-organisation of Zafar's notebooks.

Zafar's was born 9 months after the 1971 Bangladesh war of liberation,
Aug 10, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Jonathan Franzen meets Khaled Hosseini in this sprawling intellectual novel I just can't get into... It is not as cheeky and effortless in its complexity as Franzen's books and not as compassionately humanist as Hosseini.

Its major qualities (superb writing, elegantly abstract thoughts, intensely contemplative approach to the big topics of the century) should all make it compulsively readable to a philosophically trained mind as mine, to a person professionally fascinated by the world of finance
Sep 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
- this was one of the oldest books on my shelf. You know, just sitting there, staring at me, waiting to be picked up. I wish I had picked it up sooner. It was also a spontaneous bookshop buy because I thought it sounded good. *

For me, it's my most ambitious novel of the year so far and I highly recommend it. Like I said when I posted it before, it has poignant prose and not a gripping, thrilling plot so if you like those kinda books this one is not for you (but still, pick it up, you never know
Nov 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: e-books, 2016
A thoughtfull though not an uplifting book: a book to be read when you’re in an ‘up’ and not a ‘down’ period in your life.
A book to savour slowly.
A book with a lot of tenderness as well as ruthlessness.

Seven years after he mysteriously vanished from sight Zafar resurfaces on the doorstep of his erstwhile friend. The reason seems to be his need to tell his story.
The centre point in this story is Kurt Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorum: within any given system, there are claims which are true but
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Zia Haider Rahman is a British novelist of Bangladeshi origin. Born in rural Bangladesh in the shadow of the 1971 war, Rahman moved with his family to London, where he flourished academically and gained a place at Oxford University to study mathematics.

His success at Oxford led to a host of scholarships and further studies at Munich, Cambridge and Yale Universities. After working for Goldman Sachs
“Life can only be understood backward; the trouble is, it has to be lived forward.” 31 likes
“I had a friend at Princeton, a Russian graduate student. He had a cute message on his answering machine, delivered in his thick Russian accent: Who are you and what do you want? Some people spend a lifetime trying to answer these questions. You, however, have thirty seconds. My father and I chuckled. What happened to him? Gone. My point is that you could think of the people you meet in your life as questions, there to help you figure out who you are, what you’re made of, and what you want. In life, as in our new version of the game, you start off not knowing the answer. It’s only when the particles rub against each other that we figure out their properties.” 8 likes
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