Book review: Atlas of Unknowns by Tania James

The book:

downloadAtlas of Unknowns by Tania James
Published by Simon & Schuster in 2010
Pages: 336

My copy: Second-hand copy

The blurb:

When seventeen-year-old Anju wins an all-expenses-paid scholarship to study in New York for a year, she jumps at the chance to leave her home town in Kerala and embrace all that America has to offer. But there are bittersweet consequences ahead, not only for Anju, but also for the father and older sister she has left behind. For when the lie behnd Anju’s scholarship is suddenly revealed she is left without a visa and, too proud to confess to her family, goes into hiding. She accepts a job in a suburban beauty salon and the offer of a roof over her head from the kindly Bird, who strangely seems to know more about Anju’s past than Anju herself has told her. Meanwhile, Anju’s family are on a mission to find her, trying not to contemplate the possibility that they might never see her again…

My thoughts…

I do love a book set in India, especially if there is a bit of an immigration subplot thrown in for good measure. And as an added bonus, this book also has actual glitter on the cover. It was probably my ideal book even before I started reading it.

Set in both India and New York, the novel follows the Vallara family as they struggle through life after a range of mishaps. Firstly the death of Anju and Linno’s mother when both the girls were young, a death shrouded in mystery. And then Linno has a terrible accident which threatens to destroy her life.

But fortunes seem to change when Anju gets accepted to study in the US – but even this achievement is based on lies and deception.

This book flits around between characters and locations, and there are flashbacks too. This is usually something I can find quite distracting, but it is done so well here that it didn’t bother me at all. We get to find out all the family secrets, and watch them as their lives change dramatically following Anju’s departure to America.

I found the book compelling and was really invested in all the characters, and I loved both the sisters and their father Melvin. I was also a fan of superstitious grandmother Ammachi – there is always one of these characters in books set in India, and I never seem to tire of them! The situation the family finds themselves in is an interesting one, as although the big break in travelling to America is based on a major lie told by one character, I never blamed her for it as it was made in good faith. I just found myself desperate for everything to work out for them.

If I have one complaint it is that there are one too many strands of this novel, and I could really have done without the video-camera-obsessed Rohit, who tries to make a documentary about Anju, and I did find all the different ways that Anju tried to obtain a visa to be confusing. In general, I do think the novel could’ve been edited somewhat as it did seem overly long at times. But overall I thoroughly enjoyed the story from start to finish.

My rating: 9 out of 10

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