30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
A novel of great power,
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.