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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A novel of great power
Gifted is a novel of great power and enormous anger.

As the title suggests, the novel centres around a young girl, Rumi, who is found to have a gift for maths. Her parents - particularly her frightening father - decide the gift must be nurtured at all costs.

There are three principal characters, Rumi and her parents, Mahesh and Shreene. As a father...
Published on 28 April 2008 by MisterHobgoblin

versus
0 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Gifted - surely not the author!
I found it really hard to engage with this book. I just found it really dull and the story line just didn't grab me. As for the closing sentence - tackyville!
Published on 18 Nov 2009 by Sophie A. Jones


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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A novel of great power, 28 April 2008
By 
MisterHobgoblin (Melbourne) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Gifted (Paperback)
Gifted is a novel of great power and enormous anger.

As the title suggests, the novel centres around a young girl, Rumi, who is found to have a gift for maths. Her parents - particularly her frightening father - decide the gift must be nurtured at all costs.

There are three principal characters, Rumi and her parents, Mahesh and Shreene. As a father figure, Mahesh would not have been out of place in Victorian Britain. He is strong, pious, bullying and hypocritical. Having inveigled his wife, Shreene, to follow him to Wales from India to make a better life, he sets about rejecting western values whilst enjoying them to the full. He prohibits his wife, an educated woman, from flourishing and exerts a huge degree of control on her time. Whilst this makes Shreene initially angry, she eventually seems to adopt the same values as Mahesh in order to make it appear as though she is in control o her destiny.

Then, when Rumi's gift is discovered, Mahesh finds a new opportunity to exert his control. Rumi's life ceases to be her own - a tight regime of libraries, study, discipline and obedience are imposed. Rumi tries to find small outlets for her individuality, sneakily reading fiction and pilfering sweets, but the brutality of her father constantly wins through. All Rumi can do is dream of outgrowing the nest and making an early journey away to university. Obviously, with her "gifts", Rumi finds a degree of celebrity which is not always helpful, particularly given her destiny to be younger and less mature than her peers. Both in Cardiff and in Oxford, she is something of a lab rat - expected to be a second Ruth Lawrence - but is at heart a likeable and ordinary girl.

The characterization is superb. The three principal characters strike so many chords. People like Rumi, Mahesh and Shreene exist - and not just within the Indian community. The novel is a caution on the results of trying to live your life through your offspring. It is a caution about attaching undue value and focus to a small part of a person. It makes one question the benefit of unbidden "gifts" that turn out to be white elephants. It also makes one wonder about the role of bystanders who are prepared to witness such appalling abuse without questioning it, just because it happens within the middle classes.

The level of hate that Rumi feels towards her parents - and especially Mahesh - just drips from the page. Rumi seldom says - even dares to think - harsh thoughts of them but the simmering, deep hatred is inescapable. Throughout the novel, one wills her to break free and realize her potential. At the end, one is left with envious admiration for her courage in daring to do what so many of us have wanted to do. But as to whether she has succeeded in breaking free, the reader is left to guess.

It was interesting to see in the acknowledgements at the end that Nikita Lalwani seems to have good relations with her own parents. She claims the work was inspired by Vik Sharma, presumably a friend or partner. To have produced a work so vivid through only vicarious experience is a wonder.

This is a work of immense power that will stay with me for a long time.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars reader review of Gifted by Nikita Lalwani, 28 May 2009
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This review is from: Gifted (Paperback)
This is a beautifully written account of the very difficult youth and early adolescence of a Hindu girl living in England with her parents and younger brother. The girl shows a talent for maths at an early age, and this is aggressively pursued by her father, who is determined that she will set a record as the youngest person to take A Levels and gain entrance to Oxford. The father's obsessive bullying of his daughter to realise his ambition for her is intensely painful to read and, when combined with the whole family's acute sense of isolation as an Indian family living in the UK, makes the book sometimes almost unbearable. This is not a 'misery memoir' by any stretch of the imagination, however, and the central character emerges as a real person, full of contradictions and confusions, and is created with great skill by the author. Well worth reading, but be ready for a real sense of anguish at the heart of the book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding story telling, 13 Dec 2008
By 
Tushar (London, England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Gifted (Paperback)
This is a brilliantly told tale of a young girl, with a gift for mathematics, and her parents, who want with good intentions, push her as hard as they can academically. The writer develops the main characters very skillfully allowing you to really understand their motives, perspectives and confusion as to why the family begins to fracture.

This is one of the rare books that I couldn't put down while reading - the style and pace of the writing perfect and story unfolds in an unpredictable and captivating way. I can't wait for the author's next book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A thoroughly captivating novel, 23 May 2014
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This review is from: Gifted (Paperback)
I was compelled to purchase this book after it was mentioned in conversation at a party in Kensington. It follows the life of Arran Fernandez's female Indian counterpart, Rumika Vasi, as she endures the mathematical and social challenges associated with educational acceleration.

The protagonist feels increasingly constrained by the strict and tyrannical regime of study imposed by her father, Mahesh, as she ploughs through her maths GCSE and A-level exams several years ahead of her classmates. Meanwhile, she struggles to integrate (socially, that is -- she can compute antiderivatives perfectly well!) with her friends due to the cultural and intellectual disparity.

Rumi relishes the escape from Mahesh's control when she enrols at Oxford aged merely fourteen. But premature matriculation is not without its drawbacks; being thrust into the cannibalistic-canine world of university at such a young age presents Rumi with a plethora of problems and predicaments...
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5.0 out of 5 stars I would have liked this novel even if I had not been born in Cardiff, 22 Jan 2014
By 
Dr R (Norwich, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Gifted (Paperback)
I grew up in Cardiff, living first on the edge of Splott, then in Llanedeyrn Road and went on to Swansea University so reading Nikita Lalwani's debut novel, published in 2007, was a rather strange but pleasurable experience.

At the centre of the book is Rumika (Rumi) Vasi, just over 10 years old when we first meet her, the daughter of a Marxist mathematician and a university graduate mother. She is also a mathematical prodigy and her controlling father, Mahesh, is determined that she will fully deliver her full potential. From an early age, Rumi is trained like East German athletes used to be, she is under a regime that determines what she eats and when, how long she studies after school and her father "believed that the atmosphere had to be below body temperature if she was to achieve true focus". Rumi's mother, Shreene is equally controlling in her determination that her daughter's life will proceed as hers did towards an arranged marriage. What she fears most is that her daughter will say or do something that embarrasses the family.

Rumi's talent is revealed, at the age of five, by a teacher but her father cannot show his pleasure "Why was she so surprised that he and his daughter could string numbers together with reasonable panache? They were hardly shopkeepers."

Rumi, finding great enjoyment in her mathematical skills first questions the route that has been planned out for her when she cannot do the things that her school friends do, watch television, snack or attend birthday parties. But bit by bit we see Mahesh's ambition for his daughter turn into a conflict between the generations with Rumi seeking ways to alleviate the stress of her regime, reading books under her bedclothes using a torch, playing chess and even carrying a different kind of torch for a boy in her class, and finally becoming addicted to cumin. At school she is ostracised because of her strange clothes and thick glasses. Whilst Mahesh is determined to ram home the superiority of India, its financial and educational systems, he refuses to have Hindi spoken in the home, thus preventing his daughter from fully benefitting from her cultural history, because it will distract her from her studies.

Deftly, Lalwani reminds us of the focus of Rumi's thinking, each and every day, seven days a week; so, on the plane to India, she counts the seats "a line of 4 inside a series of 47 seats, part of an oblong that was probably just over100 seats long. A hypotenuse down the middle of 110 point something seats. Probably 11.5ish would be near enough, she thought, or more like 110.48". However, as her father pushes her toward her A-levels, examples of the mathematical rigour he was demanding of her would have provided a bridge to her time at Oxford.

Lalwani shows us Rumi, aged 5, 10, 14 and 15, and her family in a discontinuous non-chronological sequence, in Cardiff, on visits to India and, on her own, at Oxford, using language that is both authentic and delightful. In one beautifully described scene that takes place before her first day at university, Rumi stares at herself in the mirror, screws up her nose, groaning from her stomach and curses, using different voices and making different faces, she also uses different swear words and does it out loud. No one can stop her. She feels a total sense of release.

One of the most shocking passages in the book is when Shreene is asked by her daughter whether she was born through sexual intercourse which she had just been taught at school. Her mother, embarrassed, denies this, adding "only white people have sex". Rumi was born "through prayer".

To my ear, the author captures the different voices in this novel spot on, from Mahesh's Marxist colleague, Whitefoot, to family members in India and her very hesitant mathematics tutor, Mr Mountford, at Oxford. It is here that the novel really grips, Rumi has the freedom that she has always wanted, but at what cost? It would be wrong to even hint at the what happens in the last part of the novel.

The author almost made me feel sympathy for the Mahesh, who determines that his daughter should gain the advancement in academic mathematics that he never achieved. However, we see him unable to stretch out his arms and hold his daughter tightly.

Revisiting the Cardiff of the 1980s, Queen Street, Crwys Rd, Gabalfa was an enormous pleasure that, of course, most readers will not share. I now know what a Penal Collection is, and look forward to reading later books by Lalwani set in other, less familiar surroundings.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Gifted, 13 Dec 2013
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These books need to be chewed over and digested. Would not wish to short change the writer. Need to finish it first. Shall return.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Destroyed By Talent, 23 Oct 2013
By 
Kate Hopkins (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Gifted (Paperback)
This poignant novel tells the story of Rumi Vasar, an Indian child prodigy at mathematics growing up in Cardiff, and the effect her gift has on her family and her own life. Rumi's father, a mathematics lecturer at Swansea whose family suffered great hardship in the period when Pakistan was splitting from India, and whose own career has not evolved quite as he would wish, envisages Rumi accomplishing everything he has not managed to. He submits her to a gruelling pattern of coaching, study and mock exams, his aim being to get her into Oxford or Cambridge (where he could not go, as they didn't offer him a big enough grant) while she is still a young teenager. Meanwhile Rumi's mother Shreene worries about how Rumi's talent may affect her ability to make a good Indian marriage and attends to her moral life (which includes informing her daughter that 'only Western people have sex, we pray for children'). To begin with, Rumi enjoys her 'special' talent, but as she grows into an adolescent she begins to see how it and her Indian heritage split her off from her classmates. Her work schedule allows her little time to make friends, her parents don't want her to have boyfriends or to associate closely with boys until she is married (they plan an arranged marriage, like her parents') and she grows increasingly frightened of letting herself or her father down. Unhappy and teased at school, she begins to see India as a paradise from which she has been exiled - but she has no hope of getting there to live permanently, and when she does spend time there still feels an outsider to some degree. The pressures building on Rumi both to succeed and to be good become intolerable. She becomes aware that there are whole areas of her intellectual life (such as her love of literature) that aren't being satisfied in her father's training, her strain manifests itself in nervous tics (such as endlessly chewing cumin seeds), and she begins to develop a strong interest in boys which she knows will horrify her family. When she tries to explain her worries to her father, his reaction is simply to tell her that 'she is very silly', and her mother, who takes a subservient role in the family, is no help. Eventually, having obtained a place at Oxford at the age of 15, Rumi rebels in earnest, turning away from mathematics, and to the possibility of comfort offered by a young Muslim student (whose religion would make him unacceptable to her Hindu parents). Will her rebellion help her to find freedom, or merely damage her and her relationship with her parents?

This is a powerful and very well written novel. I loved the passages in which Lalwani described the family's experiences in India and how that might have affected Mahesh and Shreene's attitude to bringing up their children, and thought that Lalwani depicted Rumi's growing mental confusion and stress extremely convincingly - particularly powerful were the scenes in which Rumi tried to find consolation for her misery in reading fiction or watching films, and some of her blazing rows with her mother. The whole unbearable strain under which prodigies are put was also well explored, and Shreene's gradual realization of what she and her husband had done to their daughter was almost unbearingly moving. I must say though, I couldn't quite work out why so many reviewers described the novel as funny - though there were some witty sections, I found it tragic rather than amusing. And I did wonder at times whether Lalwani should have made it clear that Mahesh's attitude to his daughter was more extreme than that in many Indian families (the ones I know have wonderful academic standards but certainly don't bully their children as Mahesh does) - at times it felt as if she might be implying that his behaviour was the norm for ambitious academics. Also, it did seem at times that Mahesh's ambitions for his daughter were slightly 'in a vacuum' - he seemed to have little idea of what Rumi might do after graduating. If he was so ambitious, wouldn't he have created a 'career plan' for her? Also, wouldn't Rumi have been too scared to rebel quite as drastically as she does when she got to Oxford, at least at first? And were we meant to have felt Mahesh had come to any self-realization by the end of the book? These elements in the book were the ones that made it clear to me that 'Gifted', for all the power of the writing and the strength of the plot, was a first novel, with some of the slight weaknesses that first novels sometimes have. Nevertheless, it's a remarkable achievement, and a book I'd happily recommend to anyone interested in child psychology, immigrant fiction or novels about adolescence.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Fathers and Daughters, 8 Mar 2013
This review is from: Gifted (Kindle Edition)
Rumika Vasi goes to Oxford University age 16. She is a maths prodigy schooled by her father's obsession. The narrative is mainly from Rumi's point of view. Initially she colludes with his drive, but ultimately his ambition for her is at the expense of her own and her family's happiness. She struggles to cope with a lack of schoolfriends and her emergent sexuality. The degree to which Rumi rejects the choices made for her is extreme, as the reader will appreciate. An epilogue suggests a possible reconciliation with her mother. There appears to be almost a fictional genre of girls from Hindu (and also Muslim and indeed Jewish) backgrounds in the West. Such novels are based on well-publicised cases of child prodigies, frequently girls under the tutelage of their fathers. But it is well-written and the author gets us inside Rumi's head and heart with effect.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Spellbinding, 18 Jan 2011
This review is from: Gifted (Paperback)
Just 3 main characters and it still kept me reading into the wee hours of the night. The writing is beautiful and all the characters are wonderfully drawn. I felt like the characters were real breathing people. Rumi's pain and anguish as she grows up was something I could relate to. The confession scene reminded me of an event in my own life.

Nikita Lalwani is a talented writer, I hope she writes another novel soon.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Being gifted is not always a gift, 12 May 2013
By 
Ralph Blumenau (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Gifted (Paperback)
At the age of five Rumi had been identified by her school in Cardiff as having remarkable mathematical gifts. She is the daughter of Dr Mahesh Vasi, an Indian mathematics teacher of M.Sc. students in nearby Swansea. Mahesh may love his family, but he is humourless, pedantic, and dictatorial, both towards his unhappy wife Shreene and towards his daughter; and he has imposed on Rumi a ruthless regime to develop her gift. He insists that all her free time should be spent working on the problems he sets her every day. Rumi hates this regime, is bursting with a rage against him she cannot vent; she vents it against her mother instead, who has never shed her Indian woman's modesty and is shocked when Rumi, at ten, asks about sex and at fourteen, asks for a bra.

She takes her A levels at fourteen, seeing them as opening the gates to Oxford and escape from Cardiff and her family. She passes and gets into Oxford at fifteen; but she is not really free. Her tutorials and lectures fall into three consecutive days of the week; so for two nights a week she lodges in nearby Didcot with an impassive Indian chaperone; for the rest of the week she has to be back in Cardiff. And at Oxford she finds that the maths in her tutorial classes and her lectures are beyond her: she does not understand a thing about them. But she falls for a Muslim undergraduate, with cataclysmic results. Here, as elsewhere in the book, all Rumi's feelings manifest also themselves in vividly described physical sensations. One feels wrenchingly sad for Rumi, but, at this stage, also has to feel compassion for her father: his own world is collapsing, too. Unlike his wife, he is almost mute with suffering. The father-mother-adolescent daughter trio is trapped in an emotional hell, from which, only in the epilogue, there is a hint - no more - that it may not last for ever.

This first novel is occasionally over-written, as in this early passage about Mahesh's thoughts: "He had not been among the thirty thousand Asians haemorrhaging out of ugly scar in Uganda's belly that year, seeping into the dark spaces of Britain, afloat in the soiled bathwater of Amin's shake-up: the crawling masses who had fallen into the pockets of Leicester and Wembley." There are also parts of the story that seem to me too loosely connected with the main plot: the family's two visits to India, for example. But it is a compelling read, an involving story, with excellent characterizations, many minute observations, and a brilliant evocation of adolescent turmoil which is experienced by so many children - and not only gifted ones.
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Gifted by Nikita Lalwani (Paperback - 1 May 2008)
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