Two worlds collide in Tania James's fiction

When Tania James writes she travels, navigating between her parents' birthplace in India and the United States where the young author has spent most of her life, she told AFP.

"Atlas of Unknowns", her first novel, shuttles constantly between India and New York, as she explained in an interview at the "Fiction America" literary festival at Vincennes, just outside Paris.

Does she think of herself as Indian or American? Born in the 1970s in Chicago, James grew up in Louisville in Kentucky and a few months ago moved to Washington with her husband.

"India is always there, with me", she said, likely with Kerala in mind. But on the American side, "It's more a regional identity, rather than a national one. Kentucky, this is my home."

When the Harvard university graduate lived in New York, she always asked herself whether she felt like a New Yorker, but decided "definitely not".

"I'm not an American in a patriotic way. My parents are much more patriotic." Her father, the eldest in a family of seven children, is a doctor and nearly all her family has joined her in the United States.

Identity is about how people look at you, she explained. In India she is identified as an American woman: "I don't behave as Indian women, I don't speak like them."

In the United States she has also at times felt like an outsider: "In large cities, with a lot of communities, nobody cares. But when I was campaigning, in Virginia... knocking at doors, some old people had never seen someone like me!"

Her novel, which was published in 2009, follows two sisters, Linno and Anju, whose mother died - perhaps committed suicide - when they were both young.

The girls are Christians from Kerala without much money. But Anju is ambitious: she dreams of studying in New York, and in pursuit of her dream steals her sister's drawings to win a scholarship.

The American dream twists into a nightmare however, and in New York Anju is haunted by the memory of her mother, who also had fantasies about going to the United States.

"Anju is an ambivalent character," explains James, who took Visual and Environmental studies at Harvard. "She's selfish but she thinks that she knows what is the best for her family. She sees herself like a saviour."

James insists the novel is not preaching the moral message of the "bad girl" gets punished".

"What I liked, was the idea of the opposite trajectories. One stays in India, and is doing well. The other goes to the States and it's not what everyone is expecting."

James wanted to write "against the 'cliche' of immigration" and the American dream.

The young writer, whose own path reflects an immigration success story, is not convinced that if you have talent you will always succeed.

"It happens but it's not always true. Not at all."

Arts and Entertainment

Film Leonardo DiCaprio hunts Tom Hardy

Arts and Entertainment
And now for something completely different: the ‘Sin City’ episode of ‘Casualty’
TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

    Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
    HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
    Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

    'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

    Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
    Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

    The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

    Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen
    RuPaul interview: The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head

    RuPaul interview

    The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head
    Secrets of comedy couples: What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?

    Secrets of comedy couples

    What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?
    Satya Nadella: As Windows 10 is launched can he return Microsoft to its former glory?

    Satya Nadella: The man to clean up for Windows?

    While Microsoft's founders spend their billions, the once-invincible tech company's new boss is trying to save it
    The best swimwear for men: From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer

    The best swimwear for men

    From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer
    Mark Hix recipes: Our chef tries his hand at a spot of summer foraging

    Mark Hix goes summer foraging

     A dinner party doesn't have to mean a trip to the supermarket
    Ashes 2015: With an audacious flourish, home hero Ian Bell ends all debate

    With an audacious flourish, the home hero ends all debate

    Ian Bell advances to Trent Bridge next week almost as undroppable as Alastair Cook and Joe Root, a cornerstone of England's new thinking, says Kevin Garside
    Aaron Ramsey interview: Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season

    Aaron Ramsey interview

    Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season
    Community Shield: Arsene Wenger needs to strike first blow in rivalry with Jose Mourinho

    Community Shield gives Wenger chance to strike first blow in rivalry with Mourinho

    As long as the Arsenal manager's run of games without a win over his Chelsea counterpart continues it will continue to dominate the narrative around the two men
    The unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth - and what it says about English life

    Unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth

    Bournemouth’s elevation to football’s top tier is one of the most improbable of recent times. But it’s illustrative of deeper and wider changes in English life
    A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

    A Very British Coup, part two

    New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
    Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

    Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

    Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms