Monday, July 27, 2009

Atlas of Unknowns (2009)

Atlas of Unknowns by Tania James (2009) is exactly the reason why I love the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. It is the debut novel by an author I had never heard of, and something I probably never would have read on my own. And I really really really really liked it. And I think you would too.

Atlas of Unknowns is the story of two sisters in Kerala, India who live with their widowed father, Melvin, and their grandmother, Ammachi. The oldest daughter, Linno, loses her hand in an accident with a firecracker when she is seven years old, but retains her artistic talent and has filled a sketchbook and the local store windows with her art by the time she is in her early twenties. The youngest, Anju, is a brilliant student who has a chance to study at an elite high school in New York for a year on a full scholarship. When Anju makes the unthinking decision to pass her sister's artwork off as her own to set herself off from the other scholarship applicants it wins her the visa to New York but seriously shakes her relationship with her sister and has consequences that no one can predict.

The core of the story sounds simple, but the personalities and history of the family, together with the clashing traditions of India and post-911 New York color this novel and give it the complex character of real life. James gives each character a solid voice -- not just the sisters and their family, but Anju's famous host mother (the Indian member of a "The View"-like TV show), Linno's blind suitor and his sister, a fading Indian actress, the owner of a salon in New York, the Jewish classmate with a crush on Anju, and every other one of the people who move in and out of the orbit of the story.

And the ending was perfect.

I will admit that I am particularly partial to books about sisters, but this book was undeniably great. Want to borrow it?

1 comment:

Corie said...


PS: I also need to return several other of your books.

I'm reading The Emperor's Children right now, and really enjoying it. If you have any interest in checking it out, let me know.