Atlas of Unknowns


Atlas of Unknowns, by Tania James, is the story of two sisters linked
by a tragic past.  When Linno was 7 and her sister Anju was 3, they
lost their mother (Gracie) in a mysterious drowning accident.  The girls
are then raised in Kerala, India by their eccentric father and
religious grandmother.  Like the author, the family practices
Christianity.

As in most families, the sisters are very
different.  Anju yearns to go to the United States, believing
whole-heartedly in the American dream. She wins a scholarship to a
private school in Manhattan and seizes the opportunity to better
herself.  Linno remains behind, using her artistic skills to earn money
for her family.  She is highly independent and refuses to marry a man
she does not love.

The story weaves back and forth
through present and past, Kerala and Manhattan. In Manhattan, we meet 2
secondary characters, Bird and Mrs. Solanki, who represent opposite
poles of the American success story.  Bird was once a beautiful and
talented actress in India where she met the young Gracie, an aspiring
actress. Bird was smitten by Gracie--a secret, simmering love that
lasted well after her death. When Bird emigrated to New York, Gracie
sought to escape her abusive father and married the kind and generous
Melvin.  Anju and Linnu were the offspring of that marriage.

Neither Gracie nor Bird led gratifying lives.  Gracie longed for a career in the theater
and fantasized the life she thinks Bird is living. In reality, Bird is
just scraping together mere sustenance working in a Manhattan beauty
salon.When we meet her, she is an elderly and faded beauty, still
secretly pining for Gracie.  When she spots a notice in an Indian
newspaper announcing Anju's scholarship along with her picture, memories
of Gracie flood her memory.  She decides to help Gracie's daughter in
this unfamiliar new land.

By contrast, Mrs. Solanki is host of a popular television talk
show that sounds a bit like The View.  She is wealthy, successful and
happily married.  It is she who sponsors the scholarship that Anju
wins.  Having an Indian girl come live with her while continuing her
education is Mrs. Solanki's way of expressing gratitude for her
success.

The plot of the book revolves around Anju's act of deceit and her
expulsion from the New York school.  Rather than come home, she runs
away, ultimately living with Bird.  Meanwhile in India, the family is
heartsick with worry.  Linno is especially distraught. When she and her
new employer open an online card company, she is determined to save
enough money to apply for a visa and come to Manhattan.  Against all
odds, she hopes to find Anju.

Atlas of Unknowns (2009) is the first published work by
Tania James.  Although the plot of the book is a bit convoluted, the
characters are well-drawn.  If you are a fan of Indian literature, and
if you enjoyed Ms. James new collection of short stories, Aerogrammes,
this book is certainly worth reading.  Here, as in Aerogrammes, the
author poignantly depicts the losses suffered when leaving one's
homeland.  She also portrays family in all its quirkiness.  Above all,
she takes a hard look at the complicated love of two sisters and the
illusions inherent in "the American Dream."

Check Our Catalog

 
Comments List

Archive posts

Collapse all

Excerpts is the library newsletter and comes out every three months. It is mailed to every Glencoe resident. Copies of the newsletter are available online (below) and at the library. Please be sure to check the library calendar for program updates.

2019 Issues

June 2019

March 2019

2018 Issues

December 2018

September 2018

March 2018

June 2018

2017 Issues

December 2017

March 2017

June 2017

September 2017

2016 Issues

December 2016

September 2016

March 2016

June 2016

2015 Issues

December 2015
September 2015
June 2015

March 2015

2014 Issues
December 2014
September 2014
June 2014
March 2014

2013 Issues
December 2013
September 2013
June 2013
March 2013

2012 Issues
December 2012
September 2012
June 2012
March 2012

2011 Issues
December 2011
September 2011
June 2011
March 2011

2010 Issues
December 2010
September 2010
June 2010
March 2010

2009 Issues
December 2009
September 2009
June 2009
March 2009

2008 Issues
December 2008