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Atlas of Unknowns

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3.62  ·  Rating Details ·  744 Ratings  ·  155 Reviews
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. Linno is a gifted artist, despite a childhood accident that has left her badly maimed, and Anju is one of Kerala’s most promising students. Both girls dream of coming to the United States, but it is Anju who wi ...more
Paperback, 336 pages
Published April 20th 2010 by Vintage (first published April 21st 2009)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Erika
May 22, 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.
Julie
Mar 11, 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
Taryn Pierson
Mar 26, 2015 Taryn Pierson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Ron
Jan 23, 2014 Ron rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Rachel
Jun 12, 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
...more
Kiera
Sep 20, 2013 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.
Elizabeth
Oct 29, 2013 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
...more
Terri
Aug 18, 2009 Terri rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jessica
Jun 14, 2012 Jessica rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Mark
Jan 29, 2014 Mark rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Jennifer (JC-S)
Feb 22, 2010 Jennifer (JC-S) rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
‘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
...more
Alline
Feb 11, 2012 Alline rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Shana
Sep 26, 2012 Shana rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Victoriahoward
Mar 19, 2015 Victoriahoward rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Lolly K Dandeneau
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
Natalie Daly
Oct 18, 2013 Natalie Daly rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
sylas
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.
Erin
Jun 05, 2009 Erin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: sisters, firecrackers, bikini waxers, paper cutters
Shelves: noveltease
A beautiful debut - as lush and tangy as the best kinds of fruit.
Alison
May 02, 2011 Alison rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you have a sister I think you might love this book.
Ayelet Waldman
I'm a sucker for a good novel about the Indian experience.
Jeffrey
Feb 14, 2017 Jeffrey rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Had a really interesting concept with some great opportunities to explore immigration, family, and cultural diversity. But overall it failed to really hit home on any of these topics instead grazing over the conflict and resolution in most of them. Never really pulled me in emotionally the way a book like this should.
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
...more
Emily
Dec 21, 2016 Emily rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really beautiful & thoughtful. I would've given it 5 stars but the ending felt rushed and a little off. Totally a worthwhile read though.
Charity
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
...more
Darya
Jun 16, 2009 Darya rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Rachel
May 24, 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,”
...more
Jean
Jun 23, 2013 Jean rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Libbyyoung
Dec 17, 2016 Libbyyoung rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Parallel stories of two sisters, one who stays in India and unexpectedly blossoms, and the other who has an opportunity to study in the U.S.--the coveted prize--and unexpectedly fails. It turns out there are a lot of secrets and lies working against the close-knit Kerala family, but Tania James doesn't leave her characters (or her readers) without resolution. Sometimes I think authors write themselves to the point where they don't know how to end a novel, or think it is more artistic to have no ...more
Janine
May 14, 2009 Janine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Kavyen
Aug 29, 2010 Kavyen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
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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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