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". . . a sorrowful and intriguing story . . ."
Nikita Lalwani’s first novel, Gifted, is a sorrowful and intriguing story about Rami, a brilliant child mathematician held captive in a cultural and intellectual war by her parents, Indian émigrés in the 1970’s. Her father Mahesh, a math professor at a UK university, is still raw with childhood memories of the war between India and Pakistan while his wife Shreene desperately tries to hold on to her religious and cultural traditions.
The journey begins when Mahesh decides to prepare his five-year-old daughter for her Oxford exams himself rather than at the Mensa Society as recommended by the school. Mahesh, with his feelings of racial discrimination by the English, feels repulse at the sight of the Mensa room full of white faces.
For the next ten years, before Rami is accepted into Oxford as a genius, her father forces her into a strict regimen. She is required to study in a freezing room and denied food until she completes her assignments. Rami, who is forbidden to attend school functions or socialize with friends, becomes addicted to cumin seeds. When left alone at the library, she read novels, sneaks away to the mall and steals candy while at home she listens to music and writes lyrics.
Lalwani’s book is like Macbeth; the reader knows what is happening behind the curtain and desperately wants to scream out the truth—her parents love her. A poignant moment occurs when Mahesh stands at Rami’s door filled with emotion but is incapable of revealing his deep affection for his daughter. Her parents sacrifice a normal life so Rami can achieve her highest potential and thus have a chance for a good life.
The historic and political details in this coming-of-age novel present a credible background for the parent’s behavior. At one point, Rami comments her brother was born because her mother had intercourse. Angry, Shreene explains white women have children through intercourse while Indian women have babies through prayer.
A flaw in the novel is the author’s inability to give us a vivid persona of a mathematical genius. The story could have been about any child whose aggressive parents push their children to extremes. That said, Lalwani, who previously devoted her talents to producing documentaries for BBC, has written an appealing first novel.