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Paperback Atlas of Unknowns Book

ISBN: 0307389014

ISBN13: 9780307389015

Atlas of Unknowns

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Book Overview

An utterly irresistible first novel: The story of two sisters, the yearning to disappear into another country, and the powerful desire to return to the known world. - "Dazzling and deeply absorbing.... One of the most exciting debut novels since Zadie Smith's White Teeth." --San Francisco Chronicle

Linno is a gifted artist, despite a childhood accident that has left her badly maimed, and Anju is one of Kerala's most...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

A BEAUTIFUL Novel

An absolutely lovely book from an amazing writer. Here's what the SF Chronicle had to say: Once in a while, a novel comes along that makes you wonder why people don't read more fiction - why, given the right book, anyone would choose to do anything else. "Atlas of Unknowns," the dazzling, original and deeply absorbing debut by Tania James, is this rare book. "Atlas of Unknowns" opens in Kerala, India, and follows the Vallara sisters, Anju and Linno, one of whom leaves for New York while the other remains at home with her father and grandmother. Readers who gravitate toward South Asian fiction - which has become almost its own genre in recent years, with arranged marriages and extremes of wealth and poverty to satisfy Jane Austen fans - may be surprised by this Indian family. The Vallaras are comfortably, unexotically, middle class. They are not Hindu but Catholic. They drink Tang out of Pepsi glasses. They are also wonderfully self-aware and conscious of how many outsiders misconstrue India - prejudices that sparked controversy recently, after the release of "Slumdog Millionaire," which some critics held to be a Westerner's fantasy. James obviously had fun playing with this fantasy when she created the character of Miss Schimpf, an American art teacher who comes to Kerala to award one worthy Indian student a coveted scholarship to her prep school in New York. After Anju is picked as a finalist, Miss Schimpf arrives at the Vallara home in an "out-of-fashion salwar" and "presses her hands together in Namaste ... bowing low like a geisha girl." In a comic moment of cultural misunderstanding, Anju bows even lower. Linno, hoping to improve her sister's chances of being deemed worthy of charity, serves their guest out of an old cup. But despite their efforts to ingratiate themselves with the contest judge, the interview does not go well. After raving about the other candidates, Miss Schimpf presses Anju to articulate what makes her unique. Unable to think of anything, Anju impulsively lies and takes credit for Linno's artwork, earning the scholarship but creating a deep rift with her sister that launches the novel's conflict. At heart, this is a book about two sisters who are both struggling to figure out what makes them unique - a struggle the reader will not share. Linno and Anju are distinct and memorable. In the hands of a less imaginative writer, the girl sent to an American private school would flourish; the one left behind would languish. But James manages to knock down her readers' expectations while remaining true to her characters, who refuse to perform to anyone's expectations but their own. In India, Linno - who lost one hand as a child, when a firecracker exploded - turns down an arranged marriage to a rich blind man, pursuing a business venture with his sister instead. In New York, Anju gets placed in the home of a wealthy Indian American couple (the mother is a commentator on a TV show similar to "The View"), but when she gets caug

Couldn't put it down

I picked up this book on a whim after reading an online review in the San Francisco Chronicle. The word that comes to mind when describing this debut novel by author Tania James is "scintillating." A review simply would not do this book justice. The rich, interesting characters and tightly woven plot consumed many hours of enjoyment this past week, and I don't even typically read books of this genre. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy, you won't be disappointed.

Superb Novel!

Atlas of Unknowns is a superb novel by Tania James. Her first novel, it has already been heralded by others, and with good reason. The story focuses on two school-age sisters from India and their family; the inter-personal family dynamics are richly crafted, and the each of the primary characters are fully drawn. When one of the sisters moves to New York for a year of high school, we have the opportunity to view American culture through the eyes of one naive to some "commonplace" experiences; I'll never look at "quotation marks" the same again. The flow of the story is seamless, internally consistent, but never obvious; there are some nice surprises as the story move along. In sum, this is a wonderful novel that rewards the reader; I was saddened when I finished. I'll read up to 3-4 books weekly, and this is one of the novels that I have read in the last year. READ THIS BOOK!

A Remarkable Debut Novel by Tania James

Tania James is a skilled and gifted story teller whose debut novel is a tour de force. A second generation Indian American with impeccable credentials from Harvard & Columbia Universities, she has produced a literary gem in the form of "Atlas of Unknowns." The novel is set in both Kerala in south India (her parent's native place) and the United States and the main characters are two sisters- Anju & Linno who live with their father-Melvin and their strong-willed grandmother, lovingly called "Ammachi". Their mother had committed suicide. Anju manages to get a scholarship to come to the fabulous land called the United States of America. Regrettably,unbeknownst to the American sponsor, the invitation to enroll in a high school in New York was granted under false pretense of Anju claiming Linno's artistic creations as her own. Linno is a hand amputee due to a firecracker freakish accident but still produces beautiful drawings and sketches. Anju goes through the usual travails of a new immigrant and does splendidly well academically. The truth finally comes out when she is unable to produce any original artistc creations of her own despite her feigning some illness. Thoroughly ashamed and mortified, she quickly absconds from school, leaving her fabulously wealthy and americanized host family of Indian extraction and losing contact with her family in India. Linno, in the meanwhile, has found a job as a brilliant artist and becomes a graphic and technical designer of Hallmark-variety cards and invitations. She tries to procure visa to come to the United States to search for her lost sister. Rohit, the quirky son of the Indian host family eventually catches up with Anju in the predominantly Indian enclave of Jackson Heights in New York where through the generosity of her boarder by the name of Bird, she has now ensconced herself as a bikini waxer. Rohit is a Princeton dropout and is a self-described documentarian who wishes to document the paiful and lengthy trials and tribulations of Anju, the new immigrant, on her path to get permant resident status, thereby paving the way for his own artistic and jounalistic fame. Tania James weaves a sinuous yet compelling and engrossing story by introducing a cadre of interesting characters in India and America. With superb prose, she narrates a beautiful story that takes many unusual turns and twists and keeps the reader firmly engaged. The book is a page turner and the evocative tale of this lower middle class Indian family that straddles the two continents is gripping. I can hardly wait for her planned book of stories set in Louisville, Kentucky where she was raised.

interesting family drama

In Kerala, India, their father Melvin with help form his mother raises his two daughters Anju and Linno Vallara when his wife and their mother committed suicide. Crippled Linno turns to painting and proves to be a talented artist. However, Anju steals the work as hers and obtains an art scholarship in New York while the real painter remains behind expecting to be a servant to her father for life. However, Anju's deception collapses when she shows not one iota of talent. Disgraced, she flees with her only friend being Bird, who is connected in an enigmatic way to her late mom. While Anju hides from her family, Linno becomes an artist of renown. She has forgiven her sibling and wants her to come home. This is an interesting family drama that vividly compares life in India with immigrants in New York. The sisters are fascinating as opposites in personalities yet in spite of deception and betrayal; there remains a flicker of sibling loyalty. Tania James provides a deep look at two sisters whose conflicting dreams has divided and united them in the past, but where will it take them if Linno pulls off the reunion has the sibs and readers wondering. Harriet Klausner
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