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Atlas of Unknowns

3.62 of 5 stars 3.62  ·  rating details  ·  618 ratings  ·  136 reviews
A poignant, funny, blazingly original debut novel about sisterhood, the tantalizing dream of America, and the secret histories and hilarious eccentricities of families everywhere.

In the wake of their mother’s mysterious death, Linno and Anju are raised in Kerala by their father, Melvin, a reluctant Christian prone to bouts of dyspepsia, and their grandmother, the superstit
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published April 21st 2009 by Knopf (first published 2009)
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The Story of a Widow by Musharraf Ali FarooqiAtlas of Unknowns by Tania JamesA Disobedient Girl by Ru FreemanThe Middleman by SankarIn Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin
DSC Prize 2011 Longlist
2nd out of 16 books — 3 voters
The Story of a Widow by Musharraf Ali FarooqiHome Boy by H.M. NaqviA Life Apart by Neel MukherjeeAtlas of Unknowns by Tania JamesThe Immortals by Amit Chaudhuri
DSC Prize 2011 Shortlist
4th out of 5 books — 1 voter

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Community Reviews

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This is a wonderful novel, with tales of loves lost, loves regained, emigration, repatriation, betrayal, disappointment and reconciliation.

Anju Melvin is a studious little girl growing up near Chennai, India. Her father is a chauffeur, and her mother died when she was too young to remember. She lives with her father, her grandmother and her older sister Linno.

As a teen, she wins a scholarship to an exclusive school in Manhattan -- but only because she falsely claims that the brilliant drawings d
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I think, realistically, I would give this book about 4.3 stars, but because I got it from Poundland (yes, a POUND!) I have rounded it up on the basis of value-for-money. It was a lovely tale of sisterhood, coming of age, cultural differences, hardship, secrets, love and friendship. It was really well written and some of the language to describe things is beautiful.

It focuses on sisters Anju and Linno. Linno loses her right arm in a firework-related accident when she is young, and so begins to s
It is about the experience of Indians in India and in the U.S., and their perception of America, from the perspective of India, and when they are here. It is about the traumas that befall and connections the sustain family, the senses of responsibility and guilt for what we do to others in our families. It is about the notion of success, as perceived by Indians caught between tradition and the modern world.
I thought it was both more interesting as a story, and more sophisticated in style, textur
For starters, this book is more like a 4.5 star rating. It was much better than I expected and I'm glad I picked it up, however long ago that was.

Atlas of Unknowns follows the story of two sisters, Anju and Linno, who live very different lives. Anju, the youngest, is the star pupil and outshines her older sister in school. Linno is a victim of a firework incident and lost her right hand, but despite this disability, she is an incredible artist. Anju and Linno lost their mother when they were you
Overall, I'm disappointed in this book.

I enjoyed the beginning a lot and was interested in the characters and the story but by page 160 or so I was getting a little tired of it. The characters became kind of static and there was no real movement of the plot.

Somehow I missed everything the jacket flap said I would find ("gifts of an old-fashioned storyteller - engrossing drama, flawless control of plot, beautifully drawn character, surprises around every turn - ..." Really?) I also missed all t
This book was a hand-off from a favorite, book-loving guest. When she arrived she didn't even say 'hello.' Instead, it was simply a big hug and "I have a GREAT book for you!" One of the things I liked best was that by the time she gave it to me it looked as if she had dropped it in the bathtub, at least twice. :)

Anyway, I really liked this book - I really liked the characters, loved the story telling method, and loved the ending. All the pieces fit together, and yet I never really knew where exa
Atlas of Unknowns
Tania James is Indian and studied at Harvard and Columbia. In Atlas of Unknowns, she uses her obviously brilliant education to draw on her cultural background and write an absolutely dazzling novel about the human condition. Atlas of Unknowns is the story of two Indian sisters, how they come of age and search for their place in life. Linno, the eldest, is traumatized by her mother’s untimely death and an accident that led to her losing her hand. Anju follows in her mother’s foot
Jennifer (JC-S)
‘But the water, having no memory, moves on.’

After the death of their mother Gracie, Linno and Anju are raised in Kerala by their father, Melvin, and their grandmother Ammachi. Anju wins a scholarship to a prestigious school in America, and lies, thus betraying her sister to accept it. Anju’s lie is uncovered a few months into her scholarship, and her life changes. Fleeing from her host family, Anju works in a beauty salon and tries to obtain a green card. Linno, seeking to travel to America to f
Tania James’ Atlas of Unknowns is first on the list for this weekends’ reads. It’s a fairly hefty novel about an Indian family, but mostly revolves around the sisters’ discovery of themselves and their family history.

The older sister loses an arm in a freak accident, declines a marriage to a wealthy, blind suitor, and is a fantastic artist. The younger sister is brilliant, and in an attempt to win a scholarship to a school in the U.S., lies at the expense of her sister. The novel goes on to show
Feb 02, 2014 Ellyn rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2013
I really enjoyed this novel, which follows sisters Linno and Anju, raised in Kerala by their father and grandmother after their mother’s mysterious death. Linno is a brilliant artist who struggles to overcome the loss of her hand following a fireworks accident, while Anju is the brains of the family who wins a scholarship to study at a private New York City high school. However, Anju’s scholarship win is aided by a lie, and when the lie is discovered, she flees and goes into hiding. To support h ...more
Natalie Daly
I really enjoyed reading this book which was so beautifully written with very full and rich characters. Of particularly interest was the insight it offered into the experience of an Indian girl in New York juxtaposed with great detail about one family's life in rural India. Thanks to Jodi for recommending it to me.
Na de mysterieuze dood van hun moeder worden de zusjes Linno en Anju Vallara opgevoed door hun vader en grootmoeder. Als Linno door een ongeluk met vuurwerk een hand verliest is hun leven in India nooit meer zoals het was. Haar zusje Anju weet op niet geheel eerlijke wijze een beurs te krijgen voor een school in New York. Haar vertrek verbreekt de band tussen de zusjes. Voor Linno heeft het leven ogenschijnlijk niet meer in petto dan een gunstig huwelijk. Anju stort zich in de New Y
Jun 05, 2009 Erin rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: sisters, firecrackers, bikini waxers, paper cutters
Shelves: noveltease
A beautiful debut - as lush and tangy as the best kinds of fruit.
Ayelet Waldman
I'm a sucker for a good novel about the Indian experience.
Anju, a top student in Kerala, betrays her older sister Linno by presenting Linno's sketchbook as her own and so winning a scholarship to an American prep school. But despite Anju's gift for getting herself out of sticky situations by lying, she isn't able to preserve her ruse for long and is soon expelled from the school. So begins her journey as a (possibly) illegal alien in New York. Meanwhile, Linno and the girls' father Melvin cast about for ways in which they can find Anju, who goes "missi ...more
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 N ...more
There is great joy to be had in recommending something written by a first-time author. Atlas of Uknowns is no different. As in many other books, the reader gets caught up in the plot’s central relationship, this time between the two sisters: homely Linno, kept in the shadows of the family home in Kerala, India and Anju, the dreamer, whose good fortune brings her to New York City where she must navigate the city streets, her family’s dreams, and a life-altering secret all at once. Add to that a s ...more
The first few chapters dint impress me as much and I decided to let it lie there.. that is till I managed to pick it up again yesterday. Once I started with where I left I just could not put the book down.

Atlas of unknowns is a wonderful tribute to the love and bonding of two sisters Linno and Anju Vallara. Linno is the eldest of the two sisters and is a very interesting character. She has only one hand after having lost it in an accident playing with firecrackers when she was young. In spite of
Krishna Sruthi Srivalsan
It's hard to believe that this is Tania James' debut novel. I loved the plot, and the writing was absolutely top-notch. Dark at times, downright funny in parts, on the whole, this is a wonderfully poignant story.

Anju and Linno Vallara are sisters from Kumarakom in Kerala. Anju, the younger one, is a brilliant student, always top of her class. Linno, on the other hand, has lost her right hand due to an accident while playing with fireworks, and drops out of school under the pretext of helping at
Atlas of Unknowns is the story of a family torn apart by betrayal and separated geographically by thousands of miles. Linno and Anju Vallara are the sisters at the center of the family who must learn to navigate the difficult life choices that dictate the complexity of life's journey. The story unfolds as the sisters learn from and reflect on the difficult moments that have brought them to their present circumstances.

Nathan Englander’s cover blurb calls Tania James “a natural born storyteller,”
Tania James weaves a inspiring story about Linno and Anju, two sisters who live with their father and grandmother in India. The girls' mother dies when they are young, her death rumored to be a suicide. Linno, an artist who looses her right hand in a firework accident when she is young, teaches herself how to write and draw with her left hand. Anju, the younger sister, excels at school, and applies for a scholarship that would take her to New York City. In order to pass the scholarship interview ...more
Atlas of Unknowns is one of those books that you wish would never end. The cast of characters were drawn so well by the author, Tania James. They felt real, flesh and blood creatures who were flawed and human and always propelled by not-so-noble intentions. In spite of these flaws, the characters were likeable - and that's due to James' undoubted talent at creating them and giving them life. I loved the scenes set in Kerala (and as I am from the state, felt a thrill of recognition and experience ...more
This book required a second start, possibly because of unusual character names and unfamiliar culture, but I soon found it a read I could hardly put down.

The novel had so many facets--like intricate weavings of a beautiful sari. I was impressed with how the writer kept hold of all the right threads, never crossing them up (at least as far as I could tell) and tied them all together at the end. However, one character named Abraham confused me with his two last names: Saar and Chandy. Yes, he was
Deon Stonehouse
Atlas of Unknowns by Tania James is about two sisters. Betrayal and forgiveness form this funny, heartbreaking beautiful story. Anju and Linno are the apples of their father’s eye. They are everything for him since the death of their mother when they were small children, he loves them dearly. Anju sees her future through education. She works hard in school, always trying to stay at the head of her class. Linno suffered a horrible childhood injury, but her love of drawing still blossomed. As a li ...more
I always find it hard to write a review about a book I really enjoyed, worried that my words can never do it justice. This book is one of those. From the very first page I knew I was going to thoroughly enjoy the story. It's as if, the two main characters, Linno the artist and her younger ambitious sister Anju become your own sisters. They take you on a journey with them from childhood to adolesence to the point when they are beginning to become adults. You watch them make decisions that effect ...more
Everything about this novel is, to me, near perfect. But before you go rushing in, you should know that James' writing is quiet, speckled with humour, and moves at a steady if not somewhat slow pace. Yet the characters are so well-rendered that you want to wrap each of them up into a hug, and it their own private sets of unanswered questions that gently pull the reader forward through the narrative like a warm undercurrent. In this way, the story unfolds masterfully, retracing its steps to give ...more
Debut novel. Very well written and parts of the story are interesting, but not enough to merit a higher rating. The only characters really fleshed out are Linno and Anju. Linno is the only one it's easy to care about. The rest of the relationships in the book didn't draw me in. Story of two sisters in India. One betrays the other to win a scholarship to America.
Ilyhana Kennedy

'Atlas of Unknowns' is a journey book, both in the sense of travelling from place to place, and in travelling through inner travail.
It is exquisitely written, engaging complete immersion. The character development is gradual, deepening into intensity, flaws and strengths offering starkly honest portrayals of very real people.
Failure is a theme of the novel, layered into other themes of regret, social taboos, betrayal, shame and guilt, and also achievement against all odds.
There are complex dynam
I found this book on the clearance shelves at my local bookstore, and it's cover grabbed my attention. I'm very glad I decided to pick this one up ... one of the best $5 I've ever spent.
It's a story of sisters ... well two stories of sisters.
The main event is that of Anju and Linno, who are sisters separated by half the world. We're taken through each of their 'journeys' to be together again. Their story is touching, funny and represents the ups and downs of a sister / sister relationship well.
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“As she continues to answer questions about her employment, all these words mean little more to her now than I AM SOPHISTICATED, I AM WORTHY, I AM SOPHISTICATED, I AM WORTHY. She attempts the posture of a politician's wife, shoulders held back, dignifIed yet modest.” 1 likes
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