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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
A previous reviewer complained that none of the characters communicated - well, right! This is Lalwani's desire, to make us look at what happens to a bright, open, unusual child who is forced to play out a parent's impossibly rigid vision for her, week after week and year after year. Rumi feels unknown and unseen, and she is. I found a lot of the negative comments to be about a focus on the trees (details), instead of the forest (overall book). Yes, the family walks to the cinema and returns by 'car'. Perhaps a taxi? Is this really a problem worth noting? Consider instead a passage Lalwani includes in this very section of the book. As the family walks along, Rumi, at this point a pre-teen, experiences some rare light-hearted, in-sync moments with her parents. Everyone highly anticipates some fun together. But then the mother becomes tense about an exchange with her husband, and the world tilts: "She [the mother] laughed, a bitter rind to the sound. Rumi held her breath in her chest and looked at Mahesh [her father], fearful that it was all going to come tumbling down, that they would now sit in the cinema in silence, Shreene's [her mother's] mouth curdled with irritation, immersed in a cycle of resentment that there was no way to break. If this was the beginning of one of Shreene's moods it would start with the silent treatment, her mother possibly abstaining from food and drink not only in the cinema but until Maresh said sorry (which, from experience, could be very late at night or even, terrifyingly, the next day). Rumi's mind juddered." How beautifully does this passage capture the anxiety felt by a young girl who gets far too little joy and fears that her current experience of it is about to evaporate forever. There are many such passages in the book. Give it a chance.
This is the tale of Rumi Vasi, a child who finds immense satisfaction, beauty, and mystery in numbers. As a very young child, Rumi interpret the world through numbers--numbers are fascinating, harmonious, and enticing. In particular, she loves the number 512. It is friendly because it can be created through a process of repeated doubling and this reminds her of her father's two open hands lovingly cradling her face between his palms. But all this natural joy for numbers comes crashing down around the child when her parents are told by Rumi's teacher that she is a mathematical genius--that they need to intervene in her education to make sure she makes the best of her talents.
The teacher suggests she be introduced to Mensa, a society for highly gifted children and adults. Instead, Mahesh, Rumi's controlling and emotionally blind father decides to take the task entirely on himself. There is a great deal of cultural mistrust and misunderstanding behind this fateful decision.
Mahesh develops a rigorous study routine that leaves Rumi virtually no chance for play, self-development, or self-discovery. Mahesh knows all too well how difficult it is for an immigrant to become successful in Great Britain--doubly so when this person is a member of a culture, like India, that Mahesh strongly feels is misunderstood and undervalued. To succeed in this new environment, he believes that Rumi must not only be outstanding, she must be the very best--a nationally recognized child prodigy capable of gaining admittance to Oxford when she is only 14 years old. That is the lofty goal that Mahesh sets for his daughter.
By the end of the novel, Rumi is deeply harmed but on a possible path toward recovery. On the other hand, Mahesh is humiliated in the national media and abandoned by his daughter. He becomes a fully tragic figure despite the fact that we have little reason to identify with, or like his controlling, highly judgmental, and emotionally damaged character.
Rumi's mother, Shreene, is also a character with major tragic overtones. By the end of the work, we care a great deal about this highly intelligent and self-sacrificing human being. Shreene's tragedy begins before Rumi is born and it only gets worse as her daughter's story unfolds.
Although this story is written about an Indian family immigrating to Wales, it is not a story that is particularly unique to Indian immigrants or to Wales. This tale could easily have been written about a family from a vast number of different cultures immigrating to just about any Western country. This book deals with one of the central problems of out times--an era where multiculturalism has become necessary but is failing in almost every major Western city worldwide.
One can't help asking: what would have happened to this family if they had remained in India--had they not immigrated to Great Britain? Undoubtedly, in India, each member would have flourished emotionally--in India there would have been no tragedy at the core of their lives. So who is the villain here? Surely, the villain and the book's core message is one of failed multiculturalism--rampant lack of understanding and acceptance for other cultures that festers at the foundation of virtually all our societies.
Gifted is being marketed both as an adult and a young adult novel. It has strong literary merit and is worthy of being included in the young adult curriculum. This book has much to teach the young. As a society, we must learn how to diminish cross-cultural failure--we must learn to improve cross-cultural understanding and valuation. This book could help in a small, but significant, way to achieve these goals.
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. It touched my heart and it left me with a great deal to ponder. I recommend it highly.
"Gifted" doesn't pretend to make any profound statements about this phenomenon. It is a cautionary tale that unless the "gifted" child however young is consulted or even included in the fasttracking process, things can and will get out of hand. Mahesh and Shreene aren't remotely the monsters you might think them to be. Their apparent cruelty and lack of sensitivity towards Rumi's growing up teenage needs merely reflect their anxiety for the child to fulfill her exceptional potential. Everything else - even the recognition that but for her intellect, Rumi is like any other teenage girl - becomes secondary or unimportant. Their own cultural and religious belief - especially in the case of Shreene - and the fact that Rumi is growing up in a western secular society only compound the problem. Interestingly, unlike typical children of immigrants, Rumi doesn't reject her parents' values and is happiest when she returns to her motherland for holiday.
For a newcomer, Lalwani is remarkably accomplished. Her prose flows smoothly and her plot is always believable. An easy entertaining read, "Gifted" addresses a phenomenon only too familiar to Asians. Readers from Confucianist societies will certainly empathise with Rumi's anguish and hopefully learn from it.
Rumi is 5 when she is identified as a gifted mathematician. A label that takes over her life, her thoughts and her family. Mahesh, Rumi's father, channels all his immigrant insecurities into making sure that Rumi is his proof to his adoptive country. The proof that his rigid belief's are the right way to raise children.
Rumi's daily life from the young age of 5 is not unlike a bootcamp. Her rigorous schedule reminded me of my study timetables, just that mine started in the 10th grade and her's, when she is barely in the 1st grade. Her thoughts and emotions are peppered with numbers and equations. Her affinity to use maths to even understand and explain herself is endearing. She equates her dad's expression to an approximate sign (~), trying to decipher if that indicates his mood as "approximately happy, or sad".
Nikita has captured the Indian family of the 80's very well. A strict disciplinarian father who sees excellence in education as the only way out. An emotionally tuned in but clueless mother,Shreene, who can see her child's changing personality but is incapable of understanding why. An impressionable child, who is living in two cultures, yet is complete withdrawn from both. Her only release from her anguish being an entirely odd addiction.
Nikita has bluntly etched out the characters of Mahesh and Shreene. I thought that was a very bold move. There are no late realizations about being open to their daughter's feelings or turning a new leaf and finally being together as a happy family. To the end each character stays very real. Just as in real life, the generation gap coupled with immigrant sentiments is too strong to just come out of.
I was very curious to read the book since it was long listed for the Booker 2007. I have to say Nikita has brushed through so many issues, loneliness in a new country, the quintessential confused child balancing two cultures, parenting, without forgetting that which is core to the story. The little girl and parental expectations. That which makes it universal. I think the simplicity through all of this makes it a good book.
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Their first child, Rumi, is the central character of the story. Rumi turns out to be exceptionally intelligent, so the father, a strict disciplinarian, takes upon himself, the task of showcasing his daughter to the world, in order to experience, albeit vicariously, the attention and publicity she would receive as a child prodigy. Seeing her properly established in the right circles, for him, would be some sort of a corroboration of the values that had inspired him to acquire the status and community standing that he had acheived over the years. Both parents, believe, (not unlike improvident Asians from other countries) that the grandeur of their daughter's success would also reflect on the superiority of their own culture and norms and show 'the decadent West' their place in 'civilisation'.
Rumi, obviously, does not know of her parents' agenda. Soon enough, however, she gets to feel the heat as Mahesh puts her on a very strict regime of discipline. The rules set for Rumi, leave little room for her to be a child, leave alone playing with her peers. The greater part of her waking time was to be devoted to mathematics, not even story books were allowed. Mahesh's goal was to set a record by getting his daughter to Oxford, before her fifteenth birthday. How far he succeeds in this attempt, how Schreene reacts to the sequence of events, and how Rumi develops, is the main theme of the book.
The story has been very poignantly written. The characters are very vividly portrayed, especially Schreene, who reacts violently as she finds herself cloven apart between her Eastern values and Western mores, and how, she can, nevertheless, as a mother, set aside her own pride, and reach out to her daughter in love, and forgive. In contrast, Mahesh, the rule maker, finds himself trapped within his own self image and is unable to react. The scenario is familiar to many immigrants from developing countries who have yet to realize that the values that procured for them, their present material abundance, do not work for the second generation who need a totally different kind of nurturing.
Rumi's situation, is one that is relevant to women who have been brought up before and upto the late eighties. In actuality, the onslaught of the Internet, has changed the situation for women, quite significantly.
There are other books which have been written, by and for women, on the theme of gifted daughters, being pushed to extremes under the pressure to perform. However, not many can match this relatively fast paced book in sheer readability. Strongly recommended