Comfortably Numb

Sheila Kumar's Storehouse

Published on: 07/29/15 5:07 PM

Book review: In The Light of What We Know by Zia Haider Rahman

In The Light Of What We Know by Zia Haider Rahman, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Basically, things the author knows.

I can`t resist it. I just can`t resist it. In the light of what I (now) know, I rue the fact that I picked up this book so eagerly.

Why, you ask. Well, let me put it this way. On page 316, a character mutters, “You are all over the place.“

Exactly. Zia Haider Rahman is all over the place. Just about everywhere and expansively so. Tiresome doesn’t begin to describe it.

I need to say something else here: never for a moment was I put off by the heft (500 pages) of the book, or even its cerebral density. The fact was that, in the end, the story just did not touch me.

If you cut through all that considerable meat to the bone, the book is basically a forlorn dirge to Bangladesh. That much I got. But never in all my reading life (andthat goes a long way back, I assure you) have I read a book more self-indulgent than this one.

The writer knows everything about everything, that much too I got; math, religion, religious politics, finance, education, privilege, historical rights and wrongs, love, shame, longing, inadequacy, war, racism, aristocracy…you name it, it`s discussed (mostly at length) in here. In fact, the reader just can`t not get it because Rahman makes his characters pontificate endlessly on sundry matters, many of which, truth be told, is extraneous to the tale.

Here and there, the story of the narrator meeting, befriending and chronicling the life and times of Zafar, are  bits that arrest the reader. Momentarily. But on the whole, the story meanders, loses volume and simultaneously, loses strength. And alas, the reader loses interest, too.

There are at least two, possibly three, separate books in here. What was the editor doing?

In The Light Of What we KnowReviewZia Haider Rahman

Sheila Kumar • July 29, 2015

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