THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT: Zia Haider Rahman’s dazzling début

James Wood in The New Yorker:

ScreenHunter_630 May. 20 15.35There is a difference between knowingness and knowledge, but what is it? Knowingness comes after knowledge; it is only the echo of its source, and it is proud to be the echo. One of the liberties of our connected age is that we can be almost infinitely knowing, consoling our lack of true knowledge with an easy cynicism of acquisition. It is cheaply glorious to be able to discover almost any fact about the world on the machine I am using to write this review: I experience that liberty as the reward it is, and also as a punishment; as both a gift of the digital world and a judgment on my scant acquaintance with the actual world.

Speak for yourself, you may say. Who is this “we,” so easily invoked? If knowingness is capitalism’s gift to those metropolitan élites who haven’t earned it, there are also multitudes of people, constrained by poverty and political oppression and the bad luck of obscurity, who don’t deserve the brutal “knowledge” that is being meted out daily on their lives; they would be very grateful for the privileges of knowingness. And, by the way, would you, in Paris or New York or London, really rather know less, as the price of being less knowing?

Zia Haider Rahman’s first novel, “In the Light of What We Know” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), prompts such thoughts, and in some ways dramatizes them. It is a novel unashamed by many varieties of knowledge—its characters talk, brilliantly, about mathematics, philosophy, exile and immigration, warfare, Wall Street and financial trading, contemporary geopolitics, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, English and American society, Islamic terrorism, Western paternalism, Oxford and Yale. It is a novel that displays a formidable familiarity with élite knowledge, and takes for granted a capacity for both abstract and worldly thinking.

More here.