Tag Archives: Zia Haider Rahman

IN LIGHT OF WHAT WE KNOW: BOOK COMMENT

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“In the Light of What We Know”
Author: Zia Haider Rahman
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014
Genre: Novel
Hardcover Edition: 497 pages
Source: Library copy

This book is the long account of the life of two friends. Zafar appears on the doorstep of the unnamed narrator after a long absence and together they build an account of his life. They discuss many big ideas: science, mathematics, war, the financial world, the events of their lives, ambition and more at great length. The characters have broad and deep interests. Still, even given all this discussion of knowledge, both characters mightily wish to belong among the people around them. What are the consequences for those who do not belong? We travel with these characters from South Asia to London to New York, across cultures and class. And along the way they are part of some of the large issues of our time.

But if this story has heart as well as knowledge to impart, it is to describe the experience of always feeling the outsider because one’s current home (or lack of) is so very different from the place where one began life, where one has roots, where one’s family originated. One critic used the term displacement to discuss fiction that deals with this idea of homelessness – not belonging. Zafar, the novel’s protagonist, is a heart-breaking character, though at first glance he is an intellectual virtuoso who has known certain advantages.

“In Light of What We Know” has received wide critical acclaim. The author was born in rural Bangladesh and educated at Oxford and at Cambridge. He has worked in investment banking and as a human rights lawyer. He speaks with a strong English accent and I believe was raised in Britain and holds a British passport. Class consciousness and discrimination because of skin color are everywhere in this story and in life. In this story Britain’s class consciousness is chilly indeed.

Zia Haidor Rahman and another writer, Randy Boyagoda, discussed fiction at the recent Festival of Faith and Writing in Grand Rapids. Their fiction addresses the question: How can we welcome others who are different from ourselves? Fiction offers openness. It explores truth, if the author is honest. Through fiction we learn about why humans do what they do. Isn’t a writer’s job to help readers to notice what is happening in the world? By such a standard, this novel is surely a success. The reader will always be thinking. It is not an easy read.

Any warmth in the story seems hard to find. Even the female love interest was not loving, hardly capable of any feeling. Is there respect for the characters on the part of the author? Is there respect for others in the actions of the characters? Are there any characters in the story capable of love? These questions are no doubt tied to the story’s central theme of the longing to belong, to be accepted. But they weighed heavily on this reader.

“Watching a door close that can never be opened again is, I am sure, enough to break a heart.” This quote from early in the book describes the story. When you are on the outside, wishing to find entry and acceptance, life can be a sad and cold place to be, no matter where in the world you find yourself.

READING PREVIEW: FESTIVAL OF FAITH AND WRITING

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This week I plan to attend the writer’s conference: Festival of Faith and Writing held in Grand Rapids. For blog readers here is a peek at the some of the books I’m reading in preparation for the events of the conference.

As usual, wish I had done more prep reading …… but…..

Part of the fun of the conference is discovering and exploring new authors and their works. I confess among the authors included in this post, only Rahman is new to me. Earlier this year I read Salley Vickers novel “The Cleaner of Chartres” which I enjoyed. At the time I expected her to be at the conference. Now I do not see her listed on the schedule. I’m disappointed. That novel was my introduction to her writing. There will be new writers to discover, but as my mind runs over the schedule, I know I am also drawn to authors I have read or met before.

“More: Poems” by Barbara Crooker.
I met Barbara at the first conference I attended and somewhere along the way I purchased her poems. It’s likely I will have the opportunity to hear her again.

“Poets on the Psalms” Edited by Lynn Domina. Essays
Lynn Domina will appear in a session alongside Barbara. Attending their session may keep me in Grand Rapids an extra day.

“My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer” by Christian Wiman.
I’ll find a quiet place in the empty chapel or the library to read his work with concentration. I love the chapel at Calvin. It’s a beautiful room. I need both quiet time and concentration to process his writing.

“In the Light of What We Know: a novel by Zia Haider Rahman
I’m completely taken with this novel. It’s not an easy read, but I turn to it at every opportunity. So far (I’m not quite halfway through the story.) I see its interest as built on different views of the people with experiences in far-flung areas on our globe who participate in events that influence the lives of many people. It seems to address immigration to Europe and America from South Asia, the world financial markets, and class differences among its varied themes. Hearing this man speak is at the top of my agenda for the conference.

Ecology of a Cracker Childhood by Janisse Ray. Memoir
This book is one of the best memoirs I’ve read. Her tales of growing up in South Georgia are filled with tenderness and humor. She also writes of the long leaf pine forests, capturing the beauty and the heart of those tall trees. In short, I love reading this book. Her writing is not new to me. I’m a fan. But I had never read this one. Feeling blessed that I soon hope to hear her speak.

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