by Nikita Lalwani
Fiction. 273 pp.
Random House. 2007.
Rumi Vasi is 10 years, 4 months, 13 days, 2 hours, 42 minutes, and 6 seconds old. She's figured that the likelihood of her walking home from school with the boy she likes, John Kemble, is 9.2142, a probability severely reduced by the lacy dress and thick woolen tights her father, an Indian émigré, forces her to wear. Rumi is a gifted child, and her father believes that strict discipline is the key to nurturing her genius if the family has any hope of making a mark on its adoptive country.
Four years later, a teenage Rumi is at the center of an intense campaign by her parents to make her the youngest student ever to attend Oxford University, an effort that requires an unrelenting routine of study. Yet Rumi is growing up like any other normal teen: her mind often drifts to potent distractions . . . from music to love.
Rumi's parents want nothing other than to give Rumi an exceptional life. As her father outlines ever more regimented study schedules, her mother longs for India and forcefully reminds Rumi of her roots. In the end, the intense expectations of a family with everything to prove will be a combustible ingredient as an intelligent but naïve girl is thrust into the adult world before she has time to grow up.
In her stunningly elegant debut novel, Nikita Lalwani pits a parent's dream against a child's. Deftly pondering the complexities and consequences that accompany the best intentions, Gifted explores just how far one person will push another, and how much can be endured, in the name of love.
Gifted recently received the Desmond Elliot Prize, and the Chair of Judges said:
Gifted is a book of extraordinary range; it is touching, tender, funny and at the same time truly compelling. It covers the issues of duty and family loyalty, and the demands of an extraordinary talent, while holding at its heart the story of a young girl struggling with the agony of first love and her own, very particular, identity. Above all, it has a wonderfully bittersweet charm and for that reason Desmond Elliott would have loved it.Unfortunately, I rather disagree with this assessment. I don't think there is really anything touching or tender about it, and it's a far cry from compelling (as evidenced by the five other books I completed during its reading). I also question anyone who claims that the novel is funny. Tragic, perhaps. But certainly not funny. (I found it to lack even a semblance of a sense of humor.)
I realize that my disappointment with the novel stems from broken expectations. Somewhere somehow I had gleaned that this is a YA novel, which it certainly isn't. I was looking forward to a story about a maths genius, but Rumi's awkwardness merely engendered pity and not camaraderie or desired association. Were it not for the occasional passage narrated from the perspective of Rumi's parents, I would have truly despised them. And there was nothing that could be considered an active plot; character studies have a tendency to bore me.
Perhaps if I were taking my Post-Colonial LIterature class again, I could find a way to really sink my teeth into this novel. Instead, I can merely commend the cover artwork. (Which, by the by, is totally cool. Those little amoeba things are made entirely of numbers.)
Hidden Side of a Leaf