Reviews

Prodigy

Kris Rothstein

I had fun in the gifted class in elementary school because my parents never pressured me to become a sensation in spelling, or science—or, like Maya, the ethereal figure in Nancy Huston’s tense novel Prodigy (McArthur), a brilliant ten-year-old pianist. Maya is tiny and almost transparent from birth, but she has an extraordinary gift for music; this takes a terrible toll on her mother Lara, a frustrated musician, who begins to break down as Maya grows less dependent on her. The story is told through a series of very short first-person narratives, in which the consciousness of Maya, her parents, her grandmother and her neighbours, comes beautifully to life. The prodigy of Helen DeWitt’s novel, The Last Samurai (Knopf), lives in a more tumultuous and confusing world. Ludo and his mother Sybilla live in London and spend most of their time riding the tube because they can’t afford to heat their flat. Ludo is left to follow his peculiar interests, reading Homer in the original Greek at age five and dabbling in particle physics and Icelandic before concentrating on the study of Japanese. He and his mother rely on repeated viewing of Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai for meaning and moral guidance in their unconventional lives: Ludo uses the film as a compass as he searches London for his father and his place in the world. Both Prodigy and The Last Samurai are concerned with parents whose own gifts have not been enough to bring them happiness, and talented children who must grow up fast to cope with the unstable adult world around them. While disappointments lie in the future even for prodigies, DeWitt and Huston give us hope that the young geniuses Ludo and Maya will be able to lead interesting, balanced lives.

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