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Pickle Me This

September 16, 2007

Gifted by Nikita Lalwani

Upon first page, I found the Nikita Lalwani’s first novel Gifted absolutely enthalling, and this spell stayed cast until the very end. What a remarkable book, this story of Rumi, the daughter of Indian parents, growing up in Wales. Rumi’s gift for mathematics becomes apparent when she is five, and from that point her whole life is a strict study regimen dedicated to getting her into Oxford. She has no time for friends or play, consumed with exercises and mock-exams staged by her father. When plans comes to fruition, however, and Rumi gets to Oxford in the end, her entire life subsequently implodes. The end of Gifted is the stuff of parental nightmare, and a dramatic way to cap off such an excellent story.

Two points about this book are particularly notable. First, though Lalwani effectively constructs her narrative from multiple points of view, her portrayal of Rumi herself is really fascinating. As a young girl her perspective is convincing as from a child’s eye, but is also distorted by her “gift”. Rumi calculates radii to pass the time, views the world as a series of angles, when she fancies a boy she likens him and her to amicable numbers. This was not so overdone, but offers a worldview that I’ve never been privy to.

I also found that Lalwani’s portrayal of Rumi’s parents Mahesh and Shreene was extremely effective, avoiding predictable opposition and cliche. Mahesh in particular demonstrates the motivation for an immigrant to have his child succeed in his new country. We see the distance between him and the people around him, his disdain for those “deluded enough to think that the world is full of choices.” Our glimpses into his own point of view attribute him some sympathy. Similarly with his wife Shreene, whose behaviour is at times monstrous, we are given an understanding of her situation, raising a daughter in a society whose value system is very often at odds with her own. And that Lalwani lets these parents “go too far”, in spite of their best intentions, is a brave narrative choice, what ultimately makes this book so compelling. This takes the plot beyond a simple set-up, and explores character behaviour under extraordinary conditions.

I also really like the cover design of this book. I didn’t find it immediately appealing, but soon fell in love with its retro simplicity. Though is the picture supposed to look like, well, what it looks like? See, we could talk about this for hours….

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