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“No one uses the pavement to walk on here… The footpath is a dwelling place; people make their homes there.”

Nikita Lalwani’s “Gifted” was longlisted for the 2007 Man Booker Prize and shortlisted for the 2007 Costa First Novel Award. Gifted is how I would describe Ms. Lalwani’s writing. “The Village”, her second novel, will not dazzle you with the quality of the prose. It is well written, but the strength of the book lies in its plot and character development. The story line is refreshingly different. A young woman of Indian descent goes to India with female and male British BBC colleagues to produce a documentary about an open prison system, where murderers on good behavior work and live with their families. The project was her idea. It is her first directorial effort and she envision a humanist approach. Her female companion is more seasoned. Realism or cynicism might characterize her. The male companion is an ex-con without delusions about prisoners, save for himself. He is brought along to relate to the prisoners and to uncover the truth about this open “prison” community. There is a quiet tension throughout the novel: cultural; sexual; class; and age. Convicted murderers are cast against the predatory nature of journalism in a morality play. Idealism confronts reality.

Ms. Lalwani has a great eye for scene. She is an observer of human frailties while informatively describing the rural Indian locale and culture.

Unlike most novels, you have no idea about how the novel will end: Not the last chapter, but the last page. She takes the reader along paths less taken along the way. These are never distractions, but add to the color of the novel.

I think Ms. Lalwani is a writer to watch. I will certainly read “Gifted”. You should read “The Village.”