BOOKS

Zia Haider Rah­man’s de­but novel is al­ready win­ning plau­dits

Emirates Man - - CONTENTS -

In one, hour-long con­ver­sa­tion, de­but nov­el­ist Zia Haider Rah­man cov­ers an in­cred­i­ble amount of ground. He dis­cusses 9/11, the bank­ing cri­sis, class, trav­el­ling, talk­ing to strangers and jok­ing with im­mi­gra­tion of cials. He talks about why he set a key scene of his book in Dubai (“it’s a nat­u­ral meet­ing place of cul­tures”), and oth­ers in New York and Bangladesh. Of be­ing in Amer­ica as Barack Obama was elected, math­e­mat­ics and sci­ence. In pass­ing he men­tions his jobs as a Wall Street in­vest­ment banker and in­ter­na­tional hu­man-rights lawyer. Talk­ing to Rah­man makes you feel more in­tel­li­gent sim­ply by as­so­ci­a­tion. Hap­pily, that’s ex­actly the ex­pe­ri­ence of read­ing, in his own words, his “rollicking, ex­pan­sive novel about two friends”, In The Light Of What We­Know. The novel is very much a tale about and for our times – his mys­te­ri­ous pro­tag­o­nist Za­far pitches up unan­nounced one day at the Lon­don town­house of an old col­lege friend, now an in­vest­ment banker. Over the kitchen ta­ble, un-named friend un­picks Za­far’s life from the ru­mours that he has been in Afghanistan, Da­m­as­cus and Is­lam­abad, that he has been a spy, fa­thered a child and killed a man. There are train crashes and a racist at­tack which, in

other hands, would have been the fo­cus of lengthy chap­ters. Here, they are sharp, sud­den asides, over just as soon as they have be­gun. “But then, that’s how ex­pe­ri­ences like that hap­pen,” Rah­man says, look­ing around his pub­lisher’s of ces. “You don’t get a warn­ing that the train you’re in is about to come off the rails, do you?” It’s a point that is cen­tral to In The Light Of What We Know – that life is full of un­cer­tainty and can­not be tamed in the way we wish it to. “We don’t em­brace that idea,” says Rah­man. “Any com­fort we might have had in not know­ing things has been dis­placed by a con­vic­tion in the cer­tainty of our opin­ions, which is dan­ger­ous. Take 9/11. It was cat­a­strophic, and we looked for sin­gle causes, sim­ply be­cause it’s ter­ri­fy­ing to think it ac­tu­ally can’t be fully ex­plained. There is so much in this world we can never be sure of.” And Rah­man has seen a lot of the world. As a banker in Amer­ica and hu­man rights lawyer in Africa, he was re­mark­ably suc­cess­ful, but never felt his var­i­ous roles gave him the sense of sat­is­fac­tion he’d been look­ing for. As a seed of an idea be­gan to form on a trip to Turkey, he felt that writ­ing could pro­vide a re­lease. “I’m very in­ter­ested in power and class and how it op­er­ates,” he says. “When I was a hu­man rights lawyer, I no­ticed that it’s not just the bad guys who use this soft cur­rency of con­nec­tions and net­works – all of which hide the un­fair­ness and il­le­git­i­macy of what’s hap­pen­ing in our world. I’m re­ally sen­si­tive to that, and so it’s nat­u­ral that

“That’s how ex­pe­ri­ences hap­pen. You don’t get a warn­ing that the train you’re on is about to come off the rails, do you?”

Za­far is in this book too.” Za­far ends up op­er­at­ing in the world of en­ti­tle­ment, but he is born in ru­ral Bangladesh – as was Rah­man, whose fa­ther was a waiter and bus con­duc­tor. While Rah­man is keen to stress this isn’t thinly veiled au­to­bi­og­ra­phy he does con­cede that there are as­pects of his own ex­pe­ri­ence that he needed to ex­plore. “Look at this,” he smiles. “My book! I love the im­plied author­ity that a book gives. I mean, I’m a work­ing class im­mi­grant, and so the idea of writ­ing books, well, it’s not what people like me do, is it?” Maybe not. But then, he prob­a­bly wasn’t grow­ing up in Eng­land think­ing about be­ing an in­vest­ment banker. Or hu­man rights lawyer. Zia Haider Rah­man, the nov­el­ist, is just an­other step in an in­trigu­ing ca­reer. In The Light Of What We Know ( Pi­cador) is pub­lished on May 22

ZIA HAIDER

RAH­MAN

Rah­man’s de­but novel is al­ready be­ing praised by crit­ics

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