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Atlas of Unknowns

Average Rating 4
( 13 )
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 14 of 13 Customer Reviews
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  • Posted September 27, 2009

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    Awesome Debut Novel!

    In Atlas of Unknowns, first time novelist Tania James, tells the funny and honest story of two sisters trying to find their places in this world amidst betrayal and haunting secrets. The older sister, Linno, is scarred by an unfortunate accident and the truth behind her mother's death. She's a gifted artist, yet does not shine the way her younger sister, Anju, does academically. Anju is so successful in school that she applies for and receives a scholarship to attend an elite private school in New York. Though she wins the scholarship under false pretenses, she thinks this will be her opportunity to improve her family's situation. There's also a good supporting cast of characters. These include Anju's Hindu host family, the Sankalis, whose matriarch is a cohost on an American talk show that seems to be a caricature of a real life four woman hosted show and a son who defers college to pursue documentary film making. Then there's Bird, who brings Anju some semblance of comfort in the midst of culture shock and has a secret tie to her. Set in Kerala, India and New York, we see two sisters navigate issues like marriage, family, post 9/11 immigration, and self-discovery.

    "For such a small world, the space from person to person can span a whole sea."
    This describes the relationship between Anju and Linno both emotionally and physically. However, the emotional divide lessens once the spatial divide becomes a factor.

    I absolutely loved this book! At first, I thought this was going to be a story about one fortunate, scheming sister and the other talented and woeful. But, this isn't the case. Even though Linno lacks self-confidence early in the story, when Anju stabs her in the back, Linno calls her out. And like you would hope sisters would do, Linno still supports Anju's temporary success and she desperately tries to get to her when everything falls apart. I cheered Linno on through her self discovery and all but spewed venom at Anju, even after she loses everything. I did, however, sympathize with their father Melvin once he finds himself working for the wealthy man who was once betrothed to his deceased wife. James has a keen sense of narrative. Her characters are well developed, relative, and recognizable. She handles the issues of immigration in a post 9/11 America and a young Indian woman challenging marital customs with honesty. I felt very satisfied once finished with this. A small part of me didn't want it to end, and that's when you know you've read something really special.

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  • Posted July 11, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Atlas of Unknowns is a surprisingly apt title

    I decided to read this after hearing the Scott Simon NPR interview with Tania James -- her voice came alive and as soon as the show was over, I went online to find the book. I'm glad I read it and I'll recommend it to others but the characters never did come as alive or appear to be as marvelously eccentric as James sounded. I would have liked more about the older sister, who seems to disappear in the middle and is never as fully known as Anju, and she was a bit of a mystery as well. In fact, the "confession" which comes near the end is a complete surprise which doesn't really shed light on much else and is too late to make up for what we missed when Linno was off-stage. Another "unknown" in this atlas is the geography -- I found myself convinced that the US part of the story was taking place in the midwest and then always being pulled up short when I would read something about the subway or Queens. I've never been to India so I don't know if that part rings true or not, but the sense of place was never as strong as the characters and they weren't always strong enough either. Yet I never thought of not finishing it (and I won't finish something I don't like!).

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  • Posted July 6, 2009

    Great reading

    Book is well written, interesting, fast moving. Gives you a view of a background country as well as the United States. Also and very important shows that what you are meant to be you will be in spite of yourself!

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  • Posted May 3, 2009

    A Stunning Accomplishment of a Young, New Novelist!

    Tania James has produced a masterful debut novel. With meticulous literary dexterity, the story straddles south Indian and American characters and deals with the pangs of immigration to a new country, the emotions of betrayal and guilt by one sister who ends up in America while her family is left behind. The main characters are the two sisters, Anju and Linno from Kerala who are raised in a family of modest means by the widowed father, Melvin and the perceptive elder of the family- Ammachi, the sister's paternal grandmother. With certain connivance and puposeful betrayal by Anju who misrepresents Linno's creative work of drawings as her own and is able to secure a scholarship to study in New York. Her host family have achieved the pinnacle of their American dream and live in a mansion with all the accouterments of the fabulously wealthy. Their son, Rohit is a college dropout who wishes to be a successful documentarian and film-maker and is perpetually searching for an opportunity. Anju does extremely well academically at school but things turn topsy-turvy when it is discovered that Anju has arrived in America on false pretenses and cannot produce drawings of her own and that Linno who is a one hand amputee due to a freak fireworks accident is the original artist. Anju has no choice but flee from school and the host family and loses contact with her own family out of embarrassment. The news of Anju's disappearance is devastating to her family. Meanwhile, Linno has procured a fantastic job creating Hallmark-style cards and invitations for a local company that has cultivated customers even in America. Linno tries to obtain a visa fom the US consulate in Chennai in the hope of finding her sister in America. Anju has been staying at Bird's place who has helped her secure a job in a beauty salon as a bikini waxer in Jackson Heights, a place populated by the immigrants from India. Rohit traces her whereabouts and in earnest, embarks on his project for a documentary about the process of eventually getting green card and then citizenship for Anju. Tania James introduces many interesting and complex characters along the way. With beautiful and evocative prose, she is a superb story-teller. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book and will anxiously wait for her collection of stories set in Louisville, Ky where she was raised.

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  • Posted May 1, 2009

    A touching tale

    It's a lush painting, painstakingly created with tiny brush strokes, which brings out the delicious details of this quaint locale in Southern India. Because the characters, big and small, are handled with such genuine compassion, they leap out of the pages with three dimensional clarity. The subdued humor and the seamless blending of mystery kept me racing through the chapters. The maturity in the authors young voice is stunning; it reminded me of Tagore's Babus of Nayyanjore and Daphne De Muir's My Cousin Rachel.
    Tania beautifully paints the ecstacy and pathos associated with migration and the emotions evoked transcend all borders. Capturing and encapsulating a period and a people, then eloquently garnishing it into a delectable dish that's appealing to diverse cultural palates is quite a feat. Tania has done a great job at this.
    Jayant Kamicheril

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  • Posted March 4, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    This is an 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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    Posted July 31, 2011

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    Posted January 13, 2011

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    Posted March 6, 2010

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    Posted March 11, 2009

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