Betrayal and Remorse in Tania James’ “Atlas of Unknowns” : Prof. AJ Sebastian sdb

Betrayal and  Remorse in  Tania James’  “Atlas of Unknowns” : Prof. AJ Sebastian sdb


Abstract: This paper is a close reading of  the story of  Linno and Anju, two Syrian Christian sisters from Kerala, India, who live through the agony of betrayal, climaxing in the ecstasy of reconciliation. Anju outsmarts her elder sister Linno, who lost her arm in an accident. Fraudulently, Anju gets  a scholarship from Sitwell school in New York. When her false pretence was revealed, Anju goes  missing with guilt and shame.  Linno reaches out to her sister in love and reconciliation. The story revolves around  their search for identity which is analyzed applying James Marcia’s theory of Identity Statuses.

Born and raised in  Kentucky, Tania James,  daughter  of   immigrant  parents from Kerala, traces the intricacies of  familial relationships in the midst of  betrayal and remorse in  her debut  novel  Atlas of Unknowns.  The  immigrant experience she examines is  unique as it revolves around  two  Syrian Christian sisters from Kerala,  Anju and Linno. The  sibling’s rivalry  takes them through  betrayal, pain and agony as they travel    across the two  worlds  of unknown destinies.

       Tania has been very frank in  her email  response to my query regarding her  immigrant experience as a Diasporic writer: “I think what drives my writing is an interest in character, and in the lives and voices of those characters, not all of whom are immigrants.  But then again, the themes of dislocation and cultural dissonance- which are often central to “immigrant” or “ethnic” novels – are pervasive in much of my work.  Again this is not a conscious choice, but I’m sure my upbringing and experience (as a first-generation immigrant) have something to do with these obsessions”  (Tania, Email to the author)

The story unfolds at the Vallara family at  Kumarakom, Kerala, India in 1995. Thirteen year old Linno is busy to fulfill her duty to  nurse her father Melvin Vallara after returning from Christmas  morning Mass.  Anju her  nine year old sister keeps reciting brain teasing  quotes of   scriptural verses.  Linno takes her father to the Fancy Shoppe to buy fireworks to celebrate in the evening. When they returned home Anju  Kept reminding her sister with scriptural quotes how younger siblings should get their way. It is to be noted  how the rivalry between the two sisters began at such a tender age. This is central to the development of the plot leading to betrayal and  remorse.

After dinner the family gathered outside for the fireworks entertainment for Christmas. Melvin lets Linno to assist him  to Anju’s displeasure. He pulled out a bundle of  sparklers. Everyone got busy with the sparklers.   Linno  reached out suddenly for  the remnants of the necklace. Her father, seeing the danger, shouted to let her   drop it. But it  was too late:  “Because from this  point, everything happens with a slow grace, in the  space of  seconds. Linno feels nothing and sees everything, in all its strange clarity. The links exploding in her  palm, fire flowering and blazing above the watch  that she wears…The  face of the watch, splashed with  light,…And then Linno realizes that what she thought was the screaming of wind is a  sound    that only a girl  can make, a girl on fire” (James, 8).

Linno’s right hand suffered  third-degree burns, leading to  amputation above  the wrist. She could only listen to her grandmother Ammachi quoting  from the  Bible “If thy right hand offend thee, cut it off” (Ibidem, 9). When the scar healed Linno cut   the cuff  and tied  into a knot  before going to school to prevent  it being seen by  prying eyes. She was so discouraged with her lot that Linno seldom  looked at the mirror: “…for she knows what others see, not only a deformity of the hand   but a  deformity  of fortune. Accidents belong to  the unlucky, and ill fortune can travel  bloodlines, a gene  that surfaces and sinks  across generations but never disappears” (Ibidem, 9). She felt betrayed in the hands of fortune at such a tender age, which challenged her to be self sufficient. After having  lost her mother accidentally when she was seven years old, Linno had to cope up with life, musing on  her dream of achieving the impossible. She recollected how her mother had received  a postcard from her friend Ms. Bird who had invited her to America. Linno couldn’t figure out who the woman friend was. “She was wounded by the woman her mother might be, and choosing not to know further, she convinced herself of the necessity for silence; such is the way the questions in the family remain unasked and unanswered for years. In time, Linno  learned how to tuck all her questions away…” (Ibidem, 10).

Her father Melvin  contacted  several hospitals to get  information on prosthetic limbs, to get  one for Linno’s  wrist. But the quoted exuberant price  thwarted his plans. He sank into despair and drowned his sorrow in toddy (local beer) and cigarette smoking.  To make her cope up with her  tragic lot and to rehabilitate her, he fashioned himself into  a man of optimism.  He kept telling his children in adversity: “All in your head. Think positive. Think cool” (Ibidem, 11).

When Linno  returned to school after two months of  treatment, she found her peers  far ahead of her in their studies. The worst came when they began to tease  her  wearing  jasmine bracelets around   their wrists. She was insulted by two girls in the bathroom who pulled out her  bandage to see the shapeless wrist.

But she excelled in class when  assignments required drawing. She could draw maps and  landscapes. When  the scholastic year came to a close, she had to repeat it.  When her sister Anju excelled in her studies, she was heaped all praises and given all  attention by the family. In  age and intelligence the two sisters,  Linno (16 years ) and Anju (12 years), were far apart  from each other. Ashamed of herself, Linno stopped going to school giving the  lame excuse  that she could be at home to look after Ammachi (grandmother) saying, “Why pay for a servant… when I could be the servant?” (Ibidem, 14).  Henceforth Linno  began to do all the household chores.

When she turned twenty one, Linno  went  in search of a job at the  Princess Tailor Shoppe, to add to the family income.  She offered to paint the shop  windows. When the sketch in pencil was done, it looked impressive. People admired  her painting  and called it “Linno’s Window.” She was commissioned another window painting at the nearby  Frames & Optics with a new concept add for optics consisting of a giant  diapered baby with a pillowy chest, wearing oversized, black-rimmed eyeglasses. I was a brown baby with  pool blue eyes.  She chose an unknown territory to affirm her identity in anguish.

At  bedtime one day, Anju mentioned  about the scholarship  her teacher spoke  about. She explained that it would be an award for the best  student  from Kerala. A panel would select  one student and send   for an year to Sitwell School  in New York. Anju  planned to apply for it. She brought home a form and Linno filled it up  with her penmanship.  In April Anju received notification of her selection by the panelists and the primary judge Miss Valerie Schimpf would interview her personally. Miss. Schimpf, an art teacher at Sitwell School,  was on a sabbatical in a school at Kochi, teaching children fine arts. The interview was done at the Vallara residence. Linno decorated  her home with her posters. Miss. Schimpf’s  interview with Anju went very bad for her. That night, Linno  dreamed  that Anju had failed her interview. When she woke up she was delighted. “She both wanted Anju to go and wanted her to fail. Not only to fail, but to know the lasting heaviness of failure” (Ibidem, 28). She  felt guilty for having thought  evil  of her sister and did penance spending an hour with Ammachi’s prayer book.

Good news came when the newspaper  published a photograph  of Anju receiving a plaque from Ms. Schimpf with her compliment:  “Anju is a  true Renaissance woman: an excellent student, a leader, and a brilliant artist. I am  especially thrilled about displaying   her  artwork during the Student Art Exhibition” (Ibidem, 31). Friends and neighbors  asked Linno about the  turn of events. They  wondered  and ironically commented on how Anju had become an artist  all of a sudden. Linno added her comment on Anju’s behaviour: “You never know with her. She can do  anything she wants to do” (Ibidem, 31). Anju on her part was never at home, busying herself with  collecting documents for the trip. She made an overnight trip with Melvin to Chennai  for visa.  When she returned, being guilt ridden, she kept off from the gaze of Linno.  Melvin never spoke of the scholarship in Linno’s presence. He only kept uttering: “There is  good and there is bad, Linno. And then there is  bad for good’s sake…Your mother, she always wanted to   go to New York. It was the one thing I couldn’t give her. That and a happy marriage” (Ibidem, 32). Linno is annoyed  by her father’s pretended silence over the issue of Anju’s cheating on her.  She wanted  from Ammachi or her father an admission of the   cheating by which they approved of Anju’s new found artistry.

The fictionist  describes very vividly  Linno’s  state of mind, entering into her very thoughts as she narrates:

Linno wades her  fingers into the bowl of banana chips. Is this the moment when she should knock the bowl to the floor, drag Anju out  of bed, call her thief? But her rage will not come. Instead,  she feels the slow growing sadness in the  pit of her stomach which she has tried, time and time again, to uproot or ignore. She collects the few crumbs from the table and takes the bowl to the kitchen  (Ibidem, 33).

Her Life, she felt,  was falling apart like the banana chip  crumbs,  broken by ambition and cunning of her  own sister.

Preparations were made as Anju’s ticket arrived. While  packing her things, Linno asked if she had packed her paintings too. She felt embarrassed and promised to take care of it. It would be put up  by Ms. Schimpf at the student exhibition as Anju’s work. Feeling ashamed of herself she justified saying, “I’m trying to help us get somewhere, Linno. I’m trying to change our lives” (Ibidem, 37). Linno was  quick in her retort, “Your life first! By stepping all over mine! And then what  will happen when you leave? You will go on and I will be here, only a chapter in your life”  (Ibidem, 37). Anju merely stared on the ground expressing some sort of pain, but it was a mere temporary regret with no lasting pain or remorse.  In course of time it would remain  a mere triviality, justifying  it as her desperate  attempt at youth. When the time for parting came, Linno was the only one who was tearless. She stood against the wall with her arms crossed expressing  that she was in no mood to be touched. Her body language was indicative of her  bitterness towards Anju.

Anju suffered from  inferiority complex, though she was academically better off.  Her  sense of insecurity made her selfish and sought insincere ways to succeed in her dream world. On her part, Linno lived a  better and  secure life, though academically a failure. She took her  misfortune to live an ordinary life  devoid of ambitious plans  as there was nothing that would disappoint her more than all she has endured.

After all the harrowing experience answering all the queries of the JFK customs officer, Anju arrived at the home of the Solankis where she would be accommodated during the course of her stay in the United States. After unpacking her  belongings, Anju took out  her sister’s    sketch book with several sketches. The book became her possession now that Linno was miles away. Anju had to scrape out Linno’s name. She erased  ‘L’ from ‘L. Vallara’ and replaced it with her initial ‘A’.

Soon, Anju set about educating herself to American ways by watching several  American movies.  At the Sitwell School, she  felt strange. The only person who paid some attention to her was Sheldon Fischer, known among his classmates as Fish.  He  tried to be close to her as a potential boyfriend. Ms. Schimpf exhorted Anju to take her sketchbook everywhere and to draw whatever struck her. All she could do was to trace the picture of a tree and transfer it into the sketchbook.

Her coming to  know Ms. Bird, who was her mother’s friend,  was a blessing.  Eventually, Anju  decided to drop out of class by artfulness and deception. She also engineered her plans to bring Linno  somehow to America, as atonement  for her betrayal all along. She decided to meet Ms. Schimpf and confess her inability to continue with her classes making excuse of  juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. She  heaped lie upon lie to tell Ms. Shimpf that she was unable to write or draw due to excruciating pain. The fictionist  makes deft comment on the incident: “What miss Schimpf  does not know is that Anju has more facets than a fake diamond. She glitters with all her many, many sides” (Ibidem, 75).

Back home, Melvin was worried about the future of Linno. He and Ammachi contacted certain Rappai’s mother who had brought a marriage proposal from a  blind man.  He came from a good family with  rubber plantation  business. Considering himself   modern,  the blind man didn’t care for much dowry. He was only partially blind.  The blind suitor might have studied Linno’s history and knew her to be a girl of substance.  Though, she never confider her  story of struggle and determination to anyone, those who met her went with  the impression of a spirited and determined girl. She had  listened to  self-help cassettes her father possessed. “Live for the Now” (Ibidem, 82) was the refrain in them.  The fictionist interprets  Linno’s thoughts  and comments: “If she were  to write  a self-help book dedicated  to children like herself, children whose memories made each night a burden, Linno would advise that control is the key” (Ibidem, 82).

In New York,  Mrs. Solanki’s son  Rohit,  wishing to be a filmmaker, was keen on producing a documentary on Anju.    When he volunteered to accompany  her to Jackson Heights, she was delighted. But in course of time he began to ask a lot of questions asking her to reply in full sentences, as he videographed her. In the course of the   interview, she  revealed  that she was on her way  Jackson Heights to get her green card. When she went to meet    Mr. Tandon, a lawyer, to plead her case, Rohit attempted to videograph the interactions. The interview reveals the nitty-gritty  things related to getting  the  green card. Tandon promised to   do things at maximum speed.

When she went to school the following day, she found a note from Ms. Schimpf asking her to meet her.  When she visited Ms. Schimpf, Anju found to her surprise Fish already present there.  She  thought of getting her Ace bandage from her locker.  At Ms. Schimpf’s desk, she also noticed Principal Mitchell. The Principal immediately called Anju to his chamber.  The inevitable  did happen:

“I have to ask you: Did you do those paintings yourself?”

“Yup. Did you paint them?”

“Yes sir.”

“Did you have  help?” Miss Schimpf asks.

“No, miss.”

“Mr. Fisher?  Would you like to say something?”

…”She told me her sister did them.”

…”Anju, is this true?” (Ibidem, 137).


Anju’s deception was revealed and she surrendered with no further ado. She could hear the principal   “talk about  the consequences,  about the Honor Code, about violation” (Ibidem, 138) which made her reel under great stress as the world around  her began to  dissolve.


Back home, Anju’s father  received a call from her school informing him about Anju gone missing, sending shock waves to the Vallara household. Anju had left a note that she was resigning from the school. She  only pleaded  that her father should be informed not to worry and everything would be alright  for her with the help of  good  and  God fearing  people. In the mean time  Linno  presumed that  the American police  would trace her with the latest DNA analysis. But Miss Schimpf,  providing   Anju’s statistics to  National Crime Information Center, was sure  like most runaways,  she would be found soon.

Melvin and Ammachi couldn’t  understand why Anju behaved in that manner. They kept asking Linno for explanation, thinking that she was in a better position to understand her sister. “She wanted to tell them that in every person, there are private regions of the mind, infinite and troubling, they are known only to the self. Beyond the reach of  sisters, friends, and fathers, these are the innermost spaces that can persuade a seventeen-year-old girl to  wake up one day and walk out of her life” (Ibidem, 145). Linno  tried to figure out how the school found the  fraud. She used to write  her name art a corner of her paintings. She  had thought of telling Anju about it, but  didn’t show interest in speaking to her over phone. She had intentionally kept the secret to herself, leading to another betrayal. They were both on equal footing in betraying each other. It was  a shame to find the news in the local daily  about  Anju’s  fleeing being stripped of honors at Sitwell School. It read:  “In May of 2003 , Melvin received  a full scholarship from the Sitwell School in New York, which sponsored her entry from Kumarakom. Several months later, school  officials found that  Melvin had won the scholarship on false pretenses. When confronted with the matter, Melvin confessed, and disappeared a day later. She left behind a note explaining her intention to run away” (Ibidem, 148).

Linno decided to find out how she could get hold of a   two-week  “Relative Recovery Visa”  to  USA.  While consulting   lawyer  Mr. Ramakrishnan, she was told to apply for  tourist visa. She collected what ever money she had and  received Rs. 25,000/- from Alice who told   her about her brother Kuku, who had high connections to get things done for her. Though Linno  smelt a rat in the  offer of money and assistance from Kuku, her blind suitor, she had no choice but to use all assistance to  get the visa. After several days, she could get an appointment with Kuku in his house. She did not want to give him the impression that she  clung to her regrets.   Kuku  suggested that she could apply for the B-I, Temporary visitor for business visa. In such a case she did not have to have any connection to her sister. Linno got hold of  an advertisement DUNIYA EXPO, a   Bridal  Show  that had been rocking  New Jersey and Maryland.   Kuku suggested  that Linno  took part in it by organizing a seminar at the expo. If she paid a fee,  the  company would invite her, enabling  her to get a business visa.

Back in USA, Anju sought a job at the Apsara Salon of  Mr. Gafoor.  It was  Miss Bird who had introduced her to the salon and begged Gafoor to hire her at $5 per hour. She had planned to escape from the Solanki’s  home and seek her  security under Bird.   She  tried never to think of her home and pretended not to have any family  being in  such dire straights. Her only movement was between Bird’s apartment and the Salon. One day it happened that she had a  psychosomatic experience of bumping into  Linno. The girl was not Linno at all, but the fruit of her internal conflicts.  On several other occasions, she visualized her father strolling along.   But the faces turned out to be those of  strangers. Her  sense of guilt kept hurting her more with  ever renewed longing for home.

Though Anju was employed part time at the Apsara Salon, the  manager felt he had made a mistake in giving her the job, since he had too many beauticians   in the rolls. Besides, Ghafoor was worried since Anju  was not more than a child.  Since she was not a licensed beautician, he was afraid if something untoward happened and someone   sued his Salon. Anju  took notes as Ms. Powder listed all the  things needed to de-hair a body part.  Ms. Powder directed her to put on her paper knicker as she   removed her hair,  to teach her how the intricate  job is done. The experience was  excruciating for the young girl, removing the hair from such secret  parts of her body. The narrative   in   the stream of consciousness is superb recapturing of   Anju in trauma: “No barrier enough. Pain streaks across her mind  like a color, a lurid  splash of red across  a white wall… But it is  nearly impossible to ignore the fact that she has never looked so  closely at this  region  of her own body, let alone anyone else’s” (Ibidem, 205-6). Anju is given job of arms and legs waxing at the Salon.

Rohit pursued Anju with his plan of the documentary on her. He wanted to get her amazing story  on  “immigration, both legal and illegal. About  sisters, about family pressure, about the cross-cultural divide between  Indians at home and Indians abroad. All through the lens of your life” (Ibidem,  220). He further told her that   he would  engage a top immigration lawyer to get her legal status. He promises that he won’t  screen the film until she obtained the green card.  But when Anju told him that her student visa expired by June the following year, Rohit became seriously speechless. He knew    that she was legal only so long as she was a student. He showed her  pages from U.S.  Immigration and Customs Enforcement which read: “For academic  students  (visa  category F-I): Failure to maintain a full course load without prior authorization is a status violation. The student’s period of authorized stay will  be terminated” (Ibidem, 221).

Mrs. Solanki sent an e-mail to Linno informing her that she was unable to trace Anju after she disappeared. She had a proposal to take up the issue of immigration to a daytime TV show where she  along with her other friends  could discuss Anju’s case.   Solanki  suggested that  Linno   appeared  as a guest on the show and tell her sister’s story.  She would take care of Linno’s  travel  and other expenses for the trip.   But how could Linno  tell the world about her family’s problem?  However, the idea sounded far more  easier than Kuku’s. Meanwhile, Linno also got an e-mail invitation from  Neha Misra, President of Duniya, Inc.,  inviting her to  send a check for $ 1000 for the visa application.

Rohit continued to pursue Anju to produce his film on her. He made his equation Anju + documentary film = immigration lawyer = green card = Anju’s rise from illegality and failuredom (Ibidem, 247). When Anju showed some  interest, he began to  interview her. She also began to disclose how she came to the United States.

My family is not a poor family, but we were  having bad luck, and I thought h I will change our luck by coming to U.S. I was having  high marks  in school  and  teachers were saying  I will do great things , so I was believing this too. And then when you believe something should happen, you will make it happen, whichever way. Even if the way  is  maybe bit crooked, still it is  going in up direction. Like the fire escape… I am sorry for faking the  scholarship application  (Ibidem, 252).

She acknowledged the crooked ways she employed to reach U.S.A. But she was also sorry about  all that happened.   Rohit continued his interview with Ms. Bird as well to get another shade of the story he was filming. He also disclosed that he intended to  present the Anju film interview  at his mother’s TV program for which she had called up Linno as well. Anju was shocked to hear that his mother had contacted her sister.

Rohit contacted  lawyer Mr. Brown, who  described the American immigration system as a broken-legged beast that is unable to enforce the  rules. If her school had not reported her case  to INS, Anju  would be  legal till the departure date on her Arrival/Departure form. He even suggested that she enrolled herself in some college. By sheer luck she might  get extended visa and even permanent residency application. After having studied her case, Mr. Brown informed  her that  she is not illegal as the school had not informed the authorities.

Rohit, in the meantime  got fully immersed in the movie on Anju. He even thought of visiting India to interview her family. All of a sudden Anju  decided to go home without completing the film.  Rohit went speechless with the  shocking  response, after his investing  so much into the film to help her out. “I am trying to help you, Anju,  but I’m also trying to make a good film. Like I said, I think that both these things – the film’s best interest and your best interest – converge really nicely for everybody” (Ibidem, 276).

On the other side of the story, Linno made her trip to Chennai consulate  to apply for B-I visa. She had  researched into several  immigration websites to learn how to answer the queries swiftly so as to avoid specific scrutiny. Since it was all about business the questions avoided personal matters. She also  went through several tourist books on New York, searching the city block by block to get to  Anju’s whereabouts. The fictionist  brilliantly  enters into Linno’s stream of consciousness: “For the time being, a map allows her to pretend at some sort of control over a roiling city, allows her to forget, tentatively, this world of unknowns in which she is so very small, so powerless” (Ibidem, 280).

At the interview at the Consulate,  to the query why she wanted to visit United States, she promptly replied that she wished to represent her company at a wedding  convention sponsored by American Company called Duniya, Inc. When asked if she would stay on in USA if she found a better job opportunity, she was quick to respond that being the  head designer of her company, she had to be back in India. As the man  browsed through his computer, he  asked if she has any  family in the United States. She  spoke of Anju, her sister, who was on a student visa.  After some  delay, the man merely  said that her application remained pending for investigation. She was told to  keep checking to see her  application status. She  asked curiously “What they are investigating?, wondering if he knew  about Anju.

One day the Kapyar (sacristan) was surprised to find Linno  coming to the parish church after a very long interval.  But he found her  so weary and almost at the point of collapsing.  He made her sit down and offered a  cup of tea. She gently uttered that she came to make confession to the priest. When he told her that the priest was out of station, she pleaded with him to listen to her confession. She  kept insisting that the Kapyar listened to him  though he is not a priest.  She began to pour out her heart like in confession of a secret she had guarded for years. It was all about the way her mother  got drowned in the sea. Linno and her mother were playing hide and seek in the hollows of the rocks on the beach. At one moment she noticed her mother shrieking her name. She could see her mother walk right into the water keeping her arms spread to keep balancing. Linno could see her being thrown off balance by the waves and carried away. She thought her mother was  playing a trick on her.  The child was traumatized to know of her mother’s death. After confessing the secret to the Kapyar after so many years, she was mentally  satisfied, having taken off the weight from her mind. The Kapyar  retorted that he was no priest to absolve her in confession. But she was satisfied that she could tell it to someone at last. Seeing the smile on her face he could only utter  “Nothing is the end” (Ibidem, 317).

Back in USA, Anju  continued her shooting the film with Rohit. As they traveled in the street, Anju suddenly  stopped the car and hurried  up the road as she  noticed her sister Linno’s clumsy braid. Anju called out her sister’s name. Linno thought it to be a hypnotic feeling. She heard her name again being called out. The fictionist makes the climax of the novel very vivid: “The distance  between them is only  as wide as a well. And in Linno, a familiar dizziness returns, from trying to net a butterflying hope. In a blink, this all could disappear…. Anju’s  eyes are bright and wet in a face much leaner than when she left. She takes a step forward. “Oh.” Linno’s sound is no more than a sigh. “Oh,” she says, and they reach for each other” (Ibidem, 319). The two  sisters are joined together as though in a dream world, putting an end to their betrayal and remorse.

To analyze  the depth of relationship between Linno and Anju, I wish to apply James Marcia’s  theory of Identity Statuses, based on  Erikson’s  theory of  identity development. It was Erik Erikson who explored to a great extent  the  psychological concept of  identity. He makes  a distinction between the ego identity or “the self”; personal identity  (that separates one person from the other wit his/her personal idiosyncrasies); and  the social identity or the cultural identity by which  a person plays social roles. Erikson traces the  identity formation across a person’s lifespan. According to him the development of a strong ego identity, along with the proper integration into a stable society and culture, leads to a stronger sense of identity in general. Accordingly, a deficiency in either of these factors may increase the chance of an identity crisis or confusion (Cote  22).

Marcia  focused on adolescent development and  notion of identity crisis. Crisis  is defined as  a period of identity development during which the adolescents choose  between  meaningful alternatives. Commitment is the part of identity development in which the adolescents show  a personal investment in what they do. For Marcia   the adolescent stage consists neither of identity resolution nor identity confusion. It depends on the  variety of life domains.   The four  identity  statuses are: identity diffusion (the status of adolescents who have not yet explored meaningful alternatives or made any commitments), identity foreclosure ( the status of adolescents who have made a commitment but have not experienced a crisis), identity moratorium ( the status of adolescents who are in the midst of a crisis, but their  commitments are  either absent or vaguely defined)  and identity achievement ( the status of adolescents  who have undergone a crisis and have made a commitment). The core idea is that one’s sense of identity is determined largely by the choices and commitments one makes for oneself and others  (Santrock 400). Examining the identity statuses of Linno and Anju, it is  evident that they have taken diverse routes to  identity achievement:


                                                       IDENTITY STATUS
Position on occupation and ideology Identity






Identity achievement
Crisis Present (Anju) Absent  (Linno) Absent  (Linno) Present  (Linno)
Commitment Absent  (Linno) Present  (Anju) Absent   (Anju) Present  (Linno)

The Atlas of Unknowns  revolves around the  deep-rooted familial bond that  exists  between the two sisters, Linno and Anju. Though they move out of each other’s lives through siblings rivalry, seeking to establish their own individual identities, they return to each other after trotting unknown territories. There is  longing for freedom, yet  family and emotional ties keep boomeranging with nostalgia for home. The fictionist has  deeply delved into the mystery of betrayal, remorse and reconciliation.


Works Cited:

Cote, James E. & Levine, Charles. (2002).  Identity Formation, Agency, and Culture. New Jersey:

Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

James, Tania. ( 2009).  Atlas of Unknowns. New York Vintage Books.

Santrock, John W.  (1997). Life-Span Development. Madison: Brown & Benchmark.

Tania. Email to the author. 21 February 2010.