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Atlas of Unknowns

3.61  ·  Rating Details ·  721 Ratings  ·  152 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
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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

(showing 1-30 of 1,835)
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Taryn Pierson
Mar 30, 2015 Taryn Pierson rated it really liked it
Sometimes, just for a change of pace, I like to take a side trip into an author's back catalog. That's how I happened upon Atlas of Unknowns—it was an impulse, after I heard about James's latest novel, The Tusk That Did the Damage, which sounded quite good but not exactly what I was in the mood for. I decided to see if James had written any other books, and if (even better) I could check one out from the library for a full four weeks without waiting on a holds list.

When I read the publisher's b
Aug 23, 2015 Julie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The story opens on Christmas eve of 1995 in Kumarakom in the state of Kerala, India. Melvin the father, Linno, 13, and Anju, 9, the daughters and Ammachi the grandmother are the first characters the reader gets to meet. Gracie their mother had died when the girls were just 7 and 3. Linno took to her artistic inclinations, sketching on the sides of newspapers. Anju was smart and competitive - her success at school is a testimony. That morning Melvin wakes up with a bad feeling in his stomach, one ...more
Apr 14, 2016 Ron rated it really liked it
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 that 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, textu
May 26, 2009 Erika rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 18, 2014 Rachel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 11, 2015 Kiera rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a vey interesting story. The author understands both cultures extremely well and is very good at showing us the clashes between the two. These two sisters have such difficult lives (emotionally), which was very compelling to read.
Feb 23, 2016 Elizabeth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: physically-own
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
Mar 01, 2014 Mark rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, immigrants

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
Sep 26, 2009 Terri rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 14, 2012 Jessica rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
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
Feb 11, 2012 Alline rated it really liked it
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
Jennifer (JC-S)
Mar 18, 2010 Jennifer (JC-S) rated it really liked it
‘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
Aug 06, 2015 Victoriahoward rated it really liked it
An intricate and beautifully written story of how a young woman embarks on a new life in the U.S. The main character, Anju, is impetuous, single-minded and selfish at times. She's a complicated person and repeatedly alters the course of her life through lies and impulse decisions. Her sister, Linno, is hard-working and doggedly loyal to her family. The novel looks at how their lives develop when they separate. There is a thought-provoking examination of immigration into the U.S. from the charact ...more
Sep 26, 2012 Shana rated it it was ok
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
Lolly K Dandeneau
May 05, 2010 Lolly K Dandeneau rated it it was ok
Apparently a lot of people ate this book up and out came stars. I never felt I was in the story and the characters didn't touch me. While I understood the quest for identity and the cultural shock, I just didn't feel the story flow inside of me. I read a review on Amazon, and they stated that the 'soul' (I sometimes call it the meat) of the story was missing and I think that alone is what left me disinterested in the characters. I believe we will see more from this novelist, and likely she will ...more
Emily White
Oct 03, 2016 Emily White rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The story opens on Christmas eve of 1995 in Kumarakom in the state of Kerala, India. Melvin the father, Linno, 13, and Anju, 9, the daughters and Ammachi the grandmother are the first characters the reader gets to meet. Gracie their mother had died when the girls were just 7 and 3. Linno took to her artistic inclinations, sketching on the sides of newspapers. Anju was smart and competitive - her success at school is a testimony. That morning Melvin wakes up with a bad feeling in his stomach, one ...more
Feb 02, 2014 Ellyn rated it really liked it
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
Jul 15, 2016 Charity rated it it was ok
I am not sure why I finished this book. Maybe it's just because I love stationery and enjoyed the invitation card subplot. Because I wasn't really engaged with the characters, most of whom I found flat, and much of what happened I found either overdone (like the documentary film thing and the points about immigration, which were excellent points but were handled in too heavy-handed a fashion to feel very poignant to me).

And the ending was a particular disappointment. Characters acted in ways tha
Natalie Daly
Feb 08, 2014 Natalie Daly rated it really liked it
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.
May 28, 2015 sylas rated it it was amazing
So good! Another book full of powerful everyday misses and things that aren't at all what they seem. I loved the way that Tania James told this story, unweaving and reweaving history. This book shows an understanding of family and communication that is deep and full of wounds. I loved it.
Oct 19, 2015 Kristina rated it really liked it
This is a beautifully-told story of sisterhood, immigration, those with power and those without, and redemption. I found the characters to be rich and nuanced, and I appreciate that James was able to keep me circling between frustration with and empathy for each character as their stories unfolded. I thought she captured the American high school experience brilliantly (I'm a high school teacher, so poorly-written teenage characters drive me nuts), and the windows into the experiences of an inter ...more
Dec 19, 2014 Anke rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 really liked it
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.
May 02, 2011 Alison rated it really liked it
If you have a sister I think you might love this book.
Jun 21, 2010 Janice rated it it was amazing
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
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
Aug 29, 2010 Kavyen rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 17, 2013 Krishna Sruthi Srivalsan rated it really liked it
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
May 29, 2009 Rachel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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,”
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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.” 2 likes
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