I read In the Light of What We Know by Zia Haider Rahman because it won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 2014 and I have a personal project to read all of the winners, which I’m never going to complete I’m sure, but I’ll have a good go. It pushes me to read some books that I never would have thought of reading otherwise, this one comes under that category. I had a wee look at the reviews on Goodreads and noted that several people had abandoned the book, that’s something that I rarely do, but I can see why people would do so, this is a very wordy book at 554 pages, actually it seemed longer. I can’t say that I disliked it, but at the risk of seeming sexist I think this one might be appreciated more by male readers. This is partly because a lot of the book is conversations between two men who have been friends since they met at Oxford University.
The narrator is an investment banker of Pakistani origin, it’s 2008 and he suspects that he is going to get the blame for the mess his bank is in, they need a fall guy and he’s the youngest partner, but to be fair – he did have the idea of selling sub-prime mortgages, which caused all the trouble. He comes from a very wealthy background so losing his job is not a great worry. He has lost sight of Zafar over the years since they were at university, and when Zafar turns up at his front door he doesn’t even recognise him. Zafar has been in Afghanistan which as we know had become a hellhole.
The narrator mainly sits back and listens to Zafar as he does a lot of ‘mansplaining’, pontificating on varied subjects that he seems to be an expert on however, he’s not an expert on the one thing that I know about – the design of the Union flag/jack which he says most people think is symmetrical, when we all know that it certainly isn’t symmetrical and anyone putting up that flag has to be careful not to fly it upside-down! But the narrator also points out that Zafar is wrong about some things.
Otherwise Zafar tells the story of his life, from his conception in Bangladesh and poverty stricken childhood to his disastrous relationship with Emily and her wealthy entitled family in London.
Although this is a well written book, sometimes beautifully written, it was in dire need of an editor, and I’m left just hoping that the author has fewer problems with women in his own life than his characters have in the book. The women are all portrayed as being ghastly.