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Deceit, betrayal and disappointment

inthelightofwhatweknowIt’s September 2008 when a haunted man rings a doorbell in the well-off residential area Kensington in London. It takes the storyteller a while to recognize his friend Zafar from Oxford in the haggard man at his doorstep. As he lets Zafar in, he becomes the witness of a thrilling tale that ends up as a half-told confession. Both men have a Pakistan background and studied mathematics in Oxford. The story is a typical 21-st century tale in that it uses the banking crisis and the Iraq and Afghan wars as a background. It subtly shows how Pakistani or other ‘foreigners’ are never fully integrated into society, leading to problems with loyalty. It also sheds light on the untold story of the practice of war and subsequent reconstruction by swarms of consultants who are mainly interested in each other and the lavish salaries.

As could be expected from a storyteller who is a mathematician by training, the story is beautifully crafted, well paced and it keeps the half-told confession behind until the final few pages. The language is rich, full of references and eloquent, underlining the Oxford education.

Why should you read this book? Because it offers you a glimpse behind the facades of banks, ministries, non-governmental organizations and armies that determine most of today’s news. Writer Zia Haider Rahman has a rich and varied background in Bangladesh, Oxford, Walls Street and international human rights. In the troubled Zafar, Rahman has created a powerful and vivacious vehicle for his thoughts and observations and doubts about our world in turmoil.

The hidden theme, although it features in the book’s title, is not so much the east-west juxtaposition. Rahman frequently cites Gödel’s theorem about the limits of what we can know – even in mathematics. World visions rest on assumptions of which we can never be sure. Evidently, the visions of neoconservatives and mullahs are worlds apart. However, it’s logically impossible to tell who is right.

–> Zhia Haider Rahaman, In the light of what we know, Picador, UK, 2014, 564 pages.

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