Meeting Tania James for the first time felt a lot like delving into the first several pages of her debut novel, Atlas of Unknowns.
Like her quirky yet relatable characters, James is approachable and inviting. She greeted me wearing jeans, no shoes and a big warm smile and insisted on getting me something to drink as she welcomed me into her parents' Louisville, Ky., home.
But after just a few pages into the book, a few minutes into a conversation with James, I knew I was dealing with brilliance.
James' novel hits bookstores today. I had the opportunity to read Atlas of Unknowns and talk to James about her book last month when I was working on a profile about her.
Atlas of Unknowns is a novel about family, about sisterhood. It tells the story of Linno and Anju, two girls raised in India by their father and grandmother after their mother's mysterious death. The novel follows Anju's experiences in America, where she ends up after landing a scholarship to a prestigious school in New York — a scholarship she betrays her sister to win.
Meanwhile, Linno begins to blossom back in Kerala, rejecting a wealthy blind suitor and using her artistic gifts to make her own success. But when Anju goes missing, Linno's life is thrown off track and she's determined to get to America to find her sister.
Atlas of Unknowns zips the reader between worlds -- from India to America, from the present to the past -- and takes you on an emotional rollercoaster with scenes that will have you laughing out loud and others that will have you fighting back tears.
If you're a writer or an avid reader, you'll appreciate James' command of language. She's a natural born storyteller. James has the ability to surprise at nearly every turn of the page and she can move along the plot in a way that seems effortless.
The thing that impressed me most, however, is the fact that Atlas of Unknowns, just like James herself, is both brilliant and approachable. This book is no brain candy. You feel smarter for reading it. Yet it's still a book I would take on vacation.
Click here to learn more about Atlas of Unknowns.