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The Tusk That Did the Damage

A tour de force set in South India that plumbs the moral complexities of the ivory trade through the eyes of a poacher, a documentary filmmaker, and, in a feat of audacious imagination, an infamous elephant known as the Gravedigger.

Orphaned by poachers as a calf and sold into a life of labor and exhibition, the Gravedigger breaks free of his chains and begins terrorizing the countryside, earning his name from the humans he kills and then buries. Manu, the studious younger son of a rice farmer, loses his cousin to the Gravedigger’s violence and is drawn, with his wayward brother Jayan, into the sordid, alluring world of poaching. Emma is a young American working on a documentary with her college best friend, who witnesses the porous boundary between conservation and corruption and finds herself in her own moral gray area: a risky affair with the veterinarian who is the film’s subject. As the novel hurtles toward its tragic climax, these three storylines fuse into a wrenching meditation on love and betrayal, duty and loyalty, and the vexed relationship between man and nature. 

With lyricism and suspense, Tania James animates the rural landscapes where Western idealism clashes with local reality; where a farmer’s livelihood can be destroyed by a rampaging elephant; where men are driven to poaching. In James’ arrestingly beautiful prose, The Tusk That Did the Damage blends the mythical and the political to tell a wholly original, utterly contemporary story about the majestic animal, both god and menace, that has mesmerized us for centuries.

Advance praise for The Tusk That Did the Damage:

“The Tusk That Did the Damage is a novel of great moral intensity, with the pacing of a thriller. Everyone is implicated. Everyone is righteous.

Tania James’ gift, her genius, is to turn this scenario into an occasion for grace.” 

Julie Otsuka

“The Tusk that Did the Damage is spectacular, a pinwheeling multi-perspectival novel with a cast that includes my favorite character of recent memory, ‘the Gravedigger,’ an orphaned homicidal elephant. Tania James is one of our best writers, and here she is at the height of her powers:  brilliant, hilarious, capable of the most astonishing cross-cultural interspecies ventriloquies and acrobatic leaps of empathy.

You will read this ravishing novel in an afternoon and immediately want to press it on your favorite people.”

Karen Russell

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In their various locales--from London to the American Midwest to Sierra Leone--the men and women of these nine tales navigate unfamiliar worlds to sometimes comic, often heartbreaking effect.

In “Lion and Panther in London,” a turn-of-the-century Indian wrestler arrives in London desperate to prove himself champion of the world, only to find the city mysteriously absent of challengers. In “Light & Luminous,” a gifted dance instructor falls victim to her own vanity when a student competition allows her a final encore.  In “The Scriptological Review: A Last Letter from the Editor,” a young man obsessively studies his father’s handwriting in hopes of making sense of his death. And in the marvelous “What to Do with Henry,” a white woman from Ohio takes in the illegitimate child her husband left behind in Sierra Leone, as well as an orphaned chimpanzee who comes to anchor this strange new family.

With exuberance and compassion, Tania James once again draws us into the lives of damaged, driven, and beautifully complicated characters who quietly strive for human connection.

Press for Aerogrammes:

“These are stories that map out a fresh new world between America and South Asia with a rare blend of humor and sensitivity.

Surprising and affecting.”

Romesh Gunesekera

“Tania James’ stories are funny, deeply tender, and each-and-every-one memorable.

Aerogrammes is a gift of a collection from a talent who only grows.”

Nathan Englander

“At every turn, James’ prose is crisp, observant and carefully controlled…

James projects a deep emotional intelligence.”

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Although most of the characters in these nine immaculately crafted short stories share a common native land—Kerala in southern India—their range of emotions is brilliantly diverse...

James understands the nuances of emotional displacement.”

Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

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Atlas of Unknowns

A poignant, funny, blazingly original debut novel about sisterhood, the tantalizing dream of America, and the secret histories and hilarious eccentricities of families everywhere.

When seventeen-year old Anju wins a full scholarship to study in New York City for a year, she jumps at the chance to leave her home in Kerala—in southern India—even though it means betraying her older sister, Linno.  A social outcast and gifted artist, Linno resigns herself to painting advertisements in shop windows for the rest of her life, haunted by old memories of their mother’s mysterious death.  But soon after Anju arrives in New York, she goes missing, leaving Linno to strike out on an unusual journey of her own to find her vanished sister.

Press for Atlas of Unknowns:

“Tania James maps her characters’ yearnings and missteps with the skills of a seasoned cartographer.  Dazzling, original, witty, and poignant, [this] is

one of the most beguiling first novels I’ve read in years.”

Ann Packer author of The Dive from Clausen’s Pier

“Once in a while, a novel comes along that

makes you wonder why people don’t read more fiction—

why, given the right book, anyone would choose to do anything else. Atlas of Unknowns, the dazzling, original and deeply absorbing debut by Tania James, is this rare book.”

The San Francisco Chronicle

“As spectacular a debut as any author could hope for...

With keen insight and seminal prose James has fashioned a Bildungsroman of a family saga... The breadth and depth of Atlas of Unknowns indicates that its author is as wise beyond her years as she is gifted.”

The Courier Journal

“Delightful... James writes with poise, sly humor, and an acuity both cultural and sensuous...

The characters’ love for one other radiates off the page.”

The New York Times Book Review

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