James, Tania. Atlas of Unknowns. Knopft, 2009. ISBN 978-0307268907 336 pp. $24.95
Atlas of Unknowns is about two Asian Indian sisters who are worlds apart, and must converge. The eldest loses a hand due to a fireworks accident, but becomes a talented artist; the younger passes off her sister’s art as her own to win a scholarship to study in America with hopes it will lead to a green card for her and her sister.
I think the writing is very fine indeed; at one point the building Anju lives in is described evocatively as a cake. Details of life and culture in India are palpable and the story of the sisters is played against that of their (deceased) mother Gracie and her best friend Birdie, who coincidentally happens to live in New York AND befriends young Anju.
As an aside, the cover art is gorgeous.