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ATLAS OF UNKNOWNS by Tania James

ATLAS OF UNKNOWNS

By Tania James

Pub Date: April 24th, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-307-26890-7
Publisher: Knopf

A student’s odyssey from India to the United States and eventually back to India, a journey that raises personal and cultural questions about family, immigration and doing the right thing.

Sisters Linno and Anju Vallara have been living a quiet life in Kerala with their father Melvin and their grandmother. Despite an accident that deforms her hand, Linno is an accomplished artist, and Anju is an academician. While visiting India, Miss Schimpf, from the Sitwell School in Manhattan, interviews 17-year-old Anju for a prestigious, all-expense-paid scholarship to the school, but the interview goes badly—that is, until Anju dazzles Miss Schimpf with some of her artwork. This seals the deal, and Miss Schimpf hails Anju as “a true Renaissance woman: an excellent student, a leader, and a brilliant artist.” Trouble is that it’s not Anju’s artwork: Anju stole Linno’s oeuvre in desperation to get the scholarship. At Sitwell Anju becomes something of a loner, but eventually she’s befriended by Sheldon Fischer (aka “Fish”) and holds out hope that he might even become a Real American Boyfriend. Instead, he betrays her secret to Miss Schimpf, and she is suspended from school. This ignominy leads Anju to run away and get a job at a beauty salon, hiding her status as she seeks legalization through a shifty immigration attorney. Meanwhile, back in India, the family also suffers, both from shame and worry. Even as Linno makes arrangements to come to the United States to find and recover her sister, Anju makes a parallel decision to reject American life and return home, seeking forgiveness and reconciliation.

A touching debut novel with a range of tones, from the sweet to the sordid.