Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Reading: In the Light of What We Know/ Zia Haider Rahman

Sometimes I read  two books simultaneously, switching from one book to the other for a change when the book I'm reading begins to tire me. It was on one such occasion I got hold of a third book: In the Light of What We Know.

When I was casually glancing at the first chapter, I got simply hooked. I continued reading and forgot about the books that I was reading. Then I read on and on. It's an immersive reading experience. I could separate myself from the book only when I was done with it.

For me, the draw of the book was not so much the storyline as the telling of the story. Each chapter starts with two or more epigraphs, and you see Jafar, the protagonist, or the writer, his friend, telling the story from his perspective. First person account, no chronology, there is often a drift into another time another place, and you have lot of real, serious stuff to read and consider.

It's a grand and compelling narrative. Too many settings, too many events. Things happen - in a phantasmagorical way - in London, Dacca, Islamabad, Kabul and elsewhere. And you find Jafar everywhere in the thick of events, not just as an observer, but as kind of an activist. For one whose journey began inconspicuously from an obscure village in Sylhet in Bangladesh, and who raised himself up in a hard way, these were just too much. Despite his talent, intellect and wisdom, Jafar's story is a sad one, but thought-provoking and deeply haunting.

 Zia has a free-wheeling style, and it looks like he does not care about the way he gets across what he wants to say. And he dwells on umpteen things starting from mathematics to international politics to banking to literature to philosophy. What versatility! Zia knows how to incorporate non-literary stuff in a literary novel.

I believe Zia has exhausted himself writing this novel. Will he be able to write a second novel, I  wonder.

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