Zia Haider Rahman’s dazzling début novel

140519_r25015_p465James Wood at The New Yorker:

Rahman’s novel, astonishingly achieved for a first book, sometimes confesses its indebtedness to other novels. The example of Naipaul is never far away. Rahman leans fairly heavily on “The Great Gatsby”—the bland narrator, struggling to make sense of a lavishly talented enigma. Most obviously, particularly in the novel’s early pages, Rahman borrows from W. G. Sebald’s “Austerlitz.” In Sebald’s novel, a nameless narrator has a chance encounter with a talkative stranger. The two fall out of touch, and then meet many years later, again by chance. Austerlitz has discovered something about his origins—that he is Jewish, was born in Prague, and escaped the Holocaust by coming to England in the Kindertransport. He gradually tells this long story to his interlocutor, and so becomes the book’s true narrator. In Rahman’s novel—which carries an epigraph from “Austerlitz”—Zafar appears at the doorstep of his old friend one morning in 2008. The narrator hasn’t seen him for years, and doesn’t at first recognize him. He is “a brown-skinned man, haggard and gaunt, the ridges of his cheekbones set above an unkempt beard.” We later discover that he has spent some time in a psychiatric hospital. He lives at his friend’s house for more than three months, and the story he tells of his rise and fall—supplemented, so the narrator tells us, by extracts from Zafar’s notebooks—forms the bulk of the novel. (The many epigraphs, for instance, are supposedly taken from these idea-sown notebooks.)

more here.