Book Talk: A tale of two sisters and two worlds

Wed Mar 31, 2010 12:49am EDT
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By Tony Tharakan

NEW DELHI (Reuters Life!) - Writer Tania James oscillates between India and America in her debut novel about two sisters, illegal immigration and bikini waxes at an Indian beauty salon.

In "Atlas of Unknowns," Anju betrays her sister for a chance to study at a New York school. While she struggles to fit in, her less privileged sister finds success back home in India.

A trade paperback edition of "Atlas of Unknowns," first published in 2009, will be released in Britain in April.

James, who was born in 1980 to Indian immigrants and now lives in New York, spoke to Reuters about her novel, her inspirations and her next project -- a collection of short stories.

Q: Would you describe 'Atlas of Unknowns' as a tale of two sisters?

A: "That's a Dickensian way to put it -- maybe I have the wrong title. But yes, it is a tale of two sisters, and the troubles that befall them. It's also a story about a fractured family, about Jackson Heights, about an Indian beauty salon, about the insistent pull of the past on the present."

Q: What motivated you to write this book?

A: "As with any story I write, I'm initially motivated by an image or a situation. With this book, there were a few different situations, like the child who suffered an accident while playing with firecrackers. That situation stayed lodged in my mind until I wrote my way out of it, and there began the novel. And then that situation led to others, and soon, what motivated me was what I can best describe as the book's internal engine. It seemed to be pushing toward discovery -- about characters, their circumstances, where they had been and where they were going."   Continued...