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The Weight of Heaven: A Novel

The Weight of Heaven: A Novel

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The Weight of Heaven: A Novel

ratings:
4/5 (37 ratings)
Length:
419 pages
7 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Apr 14, 2009
ISBN:
9780061853579
Format:
Book

Description

“Powerful. . . . Twisty, brimming with dark humor and keen moral insight, The Weight of Heaven packs a wallop on both a literary and emotional level. . . . Umrigar . . . is a descriptive master.” — Christian Science Monitor

From Thrity Umrigar, bestselling author of The Space Between Us, comes The Weight of Heaven. In the rich tradition of the acclaimed works of Indian writers such as Rohinton Mistry, Akhil Sharma, Indra Sinha, and Jhumpa Lahiri, The Weight of Heaven is an emotionally charged story about unexpected death, unhealed wounds, and the price one father will pay to protect himself from pain and loss. Additionally, it offers unique perspectives, both Indian and American, on the fragmented nature of globalized India.

Publisher:
Released:
Apr 14, 2009
ISBN:
9780061853579
Format:
Book

About the author

Thrity Umrigar is the author of seven novels Everybody’s Son, The Story Hour, The World We Found, The Weight of Heaven, The Space Between Us, If Today Be Sweet, and Bombay Time; a memoir, First Darling of the Morning; and a children’s picture book, When I Carried You in My Belly. A former journalist, she was awarded a Nieman Fellowship to Harvard and was a finalist for the PEN Beyond Margins Award. A professor of English at Case Western Reserve University, she lives in Cleveland, Ohio.  

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The Weight of Heaven - Thrity Umrigar

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PROLOGUE

A few days after Benny’s death, Ellie and Frank Benton broke into separate people. Although they didn’t know it then. At that time, all they could do was concentrate on getting through each bewildering day, fighting to suppress the ugly memories that burst to the surface like fish above water. On the day of the funeral, Frank urged himself to go up to Ellie and say something brave and consoling to her, something that would reassure her that he understood, that he did not blame her for what had happened. But he was felled by a clear, sharp thought: He didn’t know how. Without Benny, he had forgotten how to make his way home, how to make his marriage whole again. Benny had been dead for less than a week, and already his marriage felt like a book he had read in high school and Ellie a character in it whose name he had forgotten. Something inexplicable happened in the days following Benny’s death—it was as if a beautiful blue bowl, no, it was as if the world itself had fallen and broken into two halves. Try as he might, Frank couldn’t help but feel toward Ellie how he imagined Adam had felt toward Eve after the Fall—hostile and compassionate. Sad and doomed and resentful. Above all, lonely. Above all, unable to regain that lost, broken thing.

It was not as though Benny had always been part of their marriage. He and Ellie had been married for eleven years, and Ben had been seven when he died. And that was not counting the year of courtship, when he and Ellie were inseparable. A lot of history there, as Ellie might have said to one of her clients. A lot of great times even before they had conceived of Benny, let alone conceived him. But a strange thing happened once Benny was born. It was as if they all ceased to be individual people. Three people merged into one and became a unit, a family. The unit traveled together or stayed home together and breathed the same domestic air. Even when they were apart—when Frank was flying to Thailand, say, to supervise a new project, or Ellie was counseling her clients, or Benny was at school, they were linked to each other, their awake thoughts full of each other. Hope Ellie remembered to fax Benny’s math homework to the hotel, Frank would think while sitting in a meeting in Bangkok. Fuck. Did I remember to buy peanut butter yesterday? Ellie would wonder while listening to a client tell her about how her sister had embarrassed her in front of the whole family at Thanksgiving dinner. Little Benny would memorize a joke someone had told at school and repeat it as soon as he got home, giggling so hard that he often messed up the punch line.

And now, they were two. Benny was gone. What was left behind was mockery—objects and memories that mocked their earlier, smug happiness. Benny was gone, an airplane lost behind the clouds, but he left behind a trail of smoke a mile long: the tiny baseball glove, the Harry Potter books, the Mr. Bean videos, the Bart Simpson T-shirt, the fishing rod, the last Halloween costume. A tiny rosewood box with a few strands of his hair. A mug that read, #1 MOM. His school photo. Photographs of the three of them at Disney World. The Arts and Crafts bungalow in Ann Arbor was positively shimmering with mockery.

Even so, Frank didn’t leap at the chance when his boss, Pete Timberlake, asked if he was interested in heading the new factory that the company had bought two years ago in Girbaug, India. Four months after Benny’s death he was still concentrating on the Herculean business of putting one foot in front of the other. Of making up reasons to get out of bed in the morning. He mumbled something to Pete about how much he appreciated the vote of confidence, but that it wasn’t the right time in his life to relocate. But Ellie heard about the offer from the wife of another executive. And saw in it what Frank couldn’t—a chance to save her marriage. To start clean in a new place. To put the baseball glove and the size-four Nike sneakers in storage, to not be slapped daily by the patter of feet not heard, by the sound of a high-pitched voice not squealing its exuberance over breakfast. And so Ellie broke the cardinal rule that she had always preached to her own clients: the one about not making any major decisions for a year after a life-altering event. Accept Pete’s offer, she urged her husband. And Frank, too tired to argue, to think, let himself be guided by the faint light of hope he saw in his wife’s eyes. India, he thought. He knew about the new, deregulated, globalized India that everyone was raving about, of course. The booming stock market. The billion-dollar acquisitions. The call centers, the manicured IT campuses. But he let himself dream of the old India, which he believed was the real country. India, he thought. Elephants. Cows on the streets. Snake charmers.

Above all, he comforted himself with the thought of being in a country with a new moon, a new coastline, a new sky. Of living in a house whose walls did not carry the telltale pencil marks of measuring a child’s height. Whose rooms did not echo with the sounds of a boy’s whoops of laughter. A country where there was no possibility of running into one of his son’s teachers. Whose parks, rivers, lakes, stadiums, video parlors, movie theaters did not constantly taunt him, remind him to look at his own broken, empty hands. He went into Pete Timberlake’s office on Monday morning and accepted his offer.

And so, banished from their once Edenic life in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Frank and Ellie Benton traveled east until they arrived at the Shivaji International Airport in Bombay on a cool January morning in 2006.

BOOK ONE

Spring 2007

Girbaug, India

CHAPTER 1

They had finished dinner a half hour ago, and now they sat on the porch waiting for the rains to come. The nighttime air was heavy with moisture, but it held its burden in check, like a widow blinking back her tears. While they waited, the storm entertained them with its flash and dazzle—the drumbeat of the thunder, the silver slashes of lightning against the black skin of the sky. With each explosion of lightning they saw the scene before them—the tall shadows on their front lawn cast by the coconut trees, the still sand beyond the lawn, and even beyond that, the restless, furious sea, straining against the shore.

He had always loved thunderstorms, even as a young boy in Grand Rapids. While his older brother, Scott, cowered and flinched and pulled the bedcovers over his ears, Frank would stand before the window of their shared bedroom, feeling brave and powerful. Talking back to the storm. He would deliberately turn his back on Scott, embarrassed and bewildered to see his older brother, usually as placid as the waters of Lake Michigan in the summer, turn into this fearful, unrecognizable creature. If they were lucky, their mother would come into their room to rock and calm her oldest boy down, and then Frank was free to escape to the second-floor porch that was adjacent to the guest bedroom. Being on this porch was the next best thing to being outdoors. From here, he felt closer to the tumultuous Michigan sky and violently, perilously free. Thunderstorms made him feel lonely, but it was a powerful lonely, something that connected him to the solitude of the world around him. If he stood on his toes and leaned his upper body out on the porch railing just so, the rain would hit his upturned face, the tiny pinpricks painful but exhilarating. The wind roared and Frank roared back; his hands tingled with each burst of lightning, as if it was nothing but a projection of the jagged, electric energy that coursed through his pale, thin body.

Years later, it would become one of Frank’s greatest disappointments that his son had not inherited his love of thunderstorms. When little Benny would crawl into bed with them, when he would whimper and bottle up his ears with his index fingers, Frank fought conflicting urges—the protective, fatherly part of him would pray for the thunderstorm to pass, would want to cradle his son’s trembling body in the nest of his own, even as a small disappointment gathered like a lump in the back of his throat.

Unlike in Michigan, thunderstorms in western India did not pass quickly. They had been in Girbaug for seventeen months now and knew how it could rain nonstop for days during the monsoon season. Now, although it was only May, the forecast called for rain tonight. Frank felt grateful to be home to watch it. He sat impatiently, waiting for the heavy, laden sky to deliver its promise. The wind whipped around them, high enough that they didn’t have to rock the swing they were sitting on. Behind them, the house was dark—Ellie had turned off the lights after they’d picked up their after-dinner coffees and padded out to the porch. Every few minutes the lightning lit up the whole panoramic scene before them, like a camera flash. Frank knew that when the rains came crashing down they would come swiftly, brutally, and his body ached with anticipation. So far it had all been foreplay—the whispers of the tall coconut trees as they leaned into each other; the cloying sweetness of the jasmine bushes; the painful groaning of the thunder. Now, he longed for the satisfying release that the rains would deliver.

He turned toward Ellie and waited for the next flash of lightning to illuminate her face. They had exchanged a few aimless words since moving to the porch, but for the most part they had sat in an easy silence for which Frank was grateful. It was a contrast to most of their interactions these days, which were laced with bitterness and unspoken accusations. He knew he was losing Ellie, that she was slipping out of his hands like the sand that lay just beyond the front yard, but he seemed unable to prevent the slow erosion. What she wanted from him—forgiveness—he could not grant her. What he wanted from her—his son back—she couldn’t give.

The lightning flashed, and he saw her white, slender body for an instant before the darkness carried her away again. She was sitting erect and still, her back pressed against the wooden boards of the swing. But what made Frank’s heart lurch was the look on her face. She sat with her eyes closed, a beatific expression on her face, looking for all the world like one of the Buddha statues they had seen on a recent trip to the Ajanta caves. She seemed to feel none of the agitation, the exciting turmoil, that was coursing through his body. Ellie seemed far away, as distant as the moon he could not see. Slipping away from his hands. Completely unaware of the memories tumbling through his mind—Ellie and he running through the streets of Ann Arbor at night during a thunderstorm, laughing wildly and singing at the top of their lungs before arriving at the house she was renting, stripping off their wet clothes at the door and falling naked onto the couch she had inherited from the previous grad student who lived there; him coming home from work one evening and finding Ellie lying on her stomach on the floor, trying to pull their four-year-old son from under their bed where he was hiding during a rainstorm.

A savage malice gripped Frank. As was common these days, something about Ellie’s calm irritated him. Deliberately, he said, Do you remember how he used to—

Yes. Of course I remember. She was wide awake now, having heard something in his voice that perhaps even he was not aware of. The satisfaction that Frank felt from having destroyed Ellie’s calm was tempered by something approaching regret. Her serenity, which he used to value so much, was now a scab he had to pick away at.

I think a year more, and he would have been fine, he continued, unable to help himself. I’d been thinking about taking him on a couple of camping trips, y’know, just the two of us, thinking that would help with—

He was already getting over it, she interrupted, and his stomach dropped. Was he imagining the triumph in her voice, the knowledge that she had scored the knockout blow and that he now had no choice but to bite the bait she had set up?

Hating himself, he asked, Getting over his fear of thunderstorms? Why didn’t you tell me?

It was going to be a surprise. I—I trained him. Behavior modification—same thing I do with my clients.

He felt a hot surge of jealousy at the thought of Ellie and Benny alone at home, while he was flying off to Thailand, the other place where HerbalSolutions had a factory. How many meetings had he sat through, how many treks to villages in the hinterlands, how many miles logged on planes, nights spent in strange hotel rooms, all the time thinking he was doing this for them? He remembered his desperation when the cell phone signals were weak and he couldn’t call in time to wish Benny good night; how he had tried to send Ellie an e-mail as soon as he got into a hotel room in whatever city he was in. How he had fought to stay connected with them even when he was across oceans and time zones. Only to learn that the two of them had their own secrets, their own rituals from which he was excluded. He tried to remember if he had always known this and if it had ever bothered him before. But he couldn’t remember. Whole chunks of his memory of life when Benny was alive were gone. Or rather, the memories were there but the feeling was gone. So that he knew that he had been happy with Ellie, that they had had a good marriage, and he remembered a million acts of love and sacrifice on her part. But how it had made him feel—the sweetness, the delicacy, the intricacy—he could no longer conjure up.

How long had he not been afraid? And how many more years were you planning to wait before telling me?

There was a slight pause, but when she spoke, Ellie’s voice was flat. It had just happened, Frank. It stormed a few times when you were away—the, the last time. I talked him through it.

Despite the dark, Frank closed his eyes. It should’ve been me, he thought. I should’ve been the one to have calmed my son’s fears. Resentment filled his mouth. Maybe that’s why he got sick, he said, spitting the words like pits from a bitter fruit. You know, maybe the stress of suppressing his fear in front of you was what—

That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard you say. Even for you, that’s a new low. Ellie shifted away from him so that their shoulders were no longer touching. There was a loud roar of thunder, as if the heavens themselves were emphasizing her words and she waited for it to subside. You know, I’d like to have just one fucking evening of peace. But if you can’t just sit with me and be decent, Frank, I’ll go indoors, okay? Because I’m not going to sit here and wait for you to come up with one more theory of how I killed our son. If you think I don’t hurt as—

Ellie— His hand shot out and covered hers. I’m sorry. Sometimes I…I’m sorry. It’s just that watching thunderstorms is really hard, you know? It’s like everything is wrapped up— He cut himself off, wanting to say more, to reveal to his wife the altered shape of his heart, but being unable to.

In the dark, he sensed rather than saw Ellie blinking back her tears. It’s okay, she said. Just forget it. But her voice wobbled, and his throat tightened with remorse. You’re a fucking bastard, he chided himself. You think she hasn’t suffered enough that you’re doing this to her? Not for the first time, he wondered if he should talk to someone, to Scott maybe, to confess his miserable treatment of Ellie. He wouldn’t seek understanding or sympathy—what he wanted was someone to give him a much-needed kick in the pants, to knock sense into his head, to ask him whether he wanted to lose his wife also, because he couldn’t accept the loss of his son. Scott adored Ellie, Frank knew, and would defend her against his own brother. Maybe he would call Scott in New York from the office tomorrow, maybe Scott could say something profound, the one true thing, that would help him make his way back to Ellie.

He put his arm around her shoulder and pulled her back into the cradle of his arm. For a few seconds she rested stiffly against him, but then her body relaxed and she rested her head on his shoulder. They stayed that way for a few moments, and then it began to rain.

Remember how we used to run all the way back from campus in the rain? Frank said.

Yup. She pulled away from him a bit, and he felt her eyes on his face. Wanna go for a walk along the beach?

You mean right now?

No time like the present.

I can’t. We’ll get soaked.

Well, that is the point of walking in the rain—getting soaked.

Funny. No, that is, normally I would, you know? But Ramesh is going to come over in a bit. He has a math test tomorrow, and I want to go over some problems with him.

He felt Ellie shift ever so slightly. I see. Okay.

What?

Nothing.

Oh, say it. You’re obviously unhappy about something.

She turned to face him. You know exactly what I’m unhappy about, Frank. I’m unhappy that we can’t go for a walk because there’s a little boy who’s forever coming over needing something or the other from my husband. And I’m—

He half rose from the swing. Jesus Christ. I don’t believe this. You’re jealous of a nine-year-old kid. Just because I don’t jump when you—

It has nothing to do with jealousy, Frank. It’s just that you don’t know what’s appropriate and what’s—

Appropriate? What the hell are you talking about? I see tremendous potential in Ramesh and so I tutor him a few evenings a week. You’re the one who acts like some goddamn saint, talking about our responsibility to those less fortunate, but when I try to help the son of our housekeepers, you—

That’s the question, Frank. Who are you trying to help? Who are you helping here?

The phone rang inside the house, but they both ignored it. Frank sat on his right hand so that it wouldn’t involuntarily curl its way around Ellie’s long, graceful neck and choke it. What the hell does that mean?

You know exactly what I mean. Do you know what it’s doing to Edna and Prakash to have you take over their son’s life?

Edna and Prakash? I don’t believe this. You think either one of them has a clue about anything? Hell, if I could work with that boy for two years, he’d be MIT-bound, someday. Why doesn’t Prakash drink less if he cares so much for his son? And why doesn’t Edna stand up to him? All I’m trying to do is improve the kid’s life.

That’s not all you’re trying to do. The phone was ringing again, but this time they scarcely heard it. They were staring at each other, breathing heavily like boxers in a ring.

What—?

Frank, Ramesh is not Ben—

Shut up, Frank interrupted. Don’t say it. If you know what’s good for you, don’t say it.

Ellie stared at him for a long second. Then, as if she’d lost some battle, her shoulders sagged. Okay. She shrugged.

But it was too late. She had stripped him naked, Frank thought. With four indiscreet words she had torn off his clothes, removed the layers of resisting muscle and skin, and gotten to his heart. His heart that had been so dead until a dark-haired, sharp-eyed Indian boy had restored a few of its beats. A boy he had grown close to precisely because he was the opposite of his dead son—dark-skinned in contrast to the light-skinned Benny, noisy and shiny where Ben had been serene and thoughtful. Ramesh was sunshine to Benny’s moonlight. Benny had been good at art and history and English and lousy at math and science; Ramesh declared that history was boring, that most books were too long to read, but was a natural at science and math. The first time Frank had helped Ramesh with his math homework, he was blown away by the boy’s smarts. Within months he had insisted that the boy be transferred to the missionary school and that he would pay the monthly fees. Edna had been grateful at the time.

Frank, I’m sorry. Ellie’s voice was soft, muffled by the harsh patter of the rain. I don’t want to hurt you. Dear God, we have to stop hurting each other like this. Please, hon. I don’t know how to do this alone.

He fought the urge to respond to the pleading in her voice. This time, Ellie had gotten too close, had left too deep a gash with her words. There was a time when he had thought of Ellie as his second self, someone who knew his deepest yearnings and thoughts. But everything that Ellie had given him—love, companionship, a home, and above all, Benny, holy God, above everything she had given him Benny—she had also taken away. Taken away by her carelessness, her thoughtlessness. He couldn’t forget that. And now she was doing it again, with Ramesh. With the only thing in his life that gave him any solace, any sense of normalcy in this chaotic country that Ellie had come to love and that he was constantly confused and repelled by.

Well, he knew how to turn his heart into a rock. For most of his years with Ellie he had not needed to use that trick. She had softened him, made him believe that it was okay to lean on another person, to trust, to not carry himself in a constant state of war and wariness. In the years that they were a family all the old, ancient feelings—of being on guard, of believing that everything valuable had to be earned, that nothing was freely given, nothing was grace—all those feelings had vanished. But now he knew they had just gone below the surface. That he could access them, as easily as a file on an old computer.

His father had walked out on them when he was twelve. But Gerald had lived with them long enough to teach his younger son some invaluable lessons. Of how to turn his eyes blank so that no hurt would show in them. Of how to swim deep within himself, and not bob to the surface until the storm of Gerald’s violence had ebbed. Of how to turn his heart into a rock so that Gerald’s flinty, ugly words would bounce lightly off its surface.

Frank called on that knowledge now. Ignored his wife’s upturned hand, not-seeing the sadness in her eyes or the heartbreaking curve of her mouth, not-hearing her plea for reconciliation, for going back to the way they used to be. Deliberately, he got up from the swing. I’m going in, he said.

You don’t have to.

Ramesh will be here soon, anyway. He collected their coffee mugs, aware of Ellie’s eyes on him, knowing without looking the sadness and hurt and confusion that they held. It tore at him, this knowledge that he was responsible for the light going out of his wife’s eyes, but his grief was paradoxical—it seemed to abate only if he duplicated it in Ellie, only if he caused more of it. Any moment that he spent berating himself for what he was doing to Ellie was a moment he didn’t remember that he had to face the rest of his life without Benny.

The phone rang again the instant he walked into the living room, and he glanced at the clock. Eight o’clock. Could be Ellie’s friend Nandita. Or Scott, for that matter. He remembered his earlier resolve to phone Scott tomorrow. Let it be Scott, he thought. He could take the call in the guest bedroom. Maybe Scott would say something that would allow him to approach Ellie again tonight, to salvage the evening.

Hello? he said, and knew immediately from the texture of the connection that it wasn’t an overseas call.

Sir? the voice at the other end said. This is Gulab Singh. Sorry to disturb at home, sir, but there’s trouble at the factory.

Frank’s stomach muscles clenched involuntarily. What kind of trouble? He hoped it was nothing serious enough to require him to go in tonight even as he knew that Gulab, who was the head of security at the factory, would not have called him at home over a trivial matter.

There was a pause, long enough for Frank to wonder if he’d lost the connection. Then Gulab said, It’s about that union chap—Anand. You remember him, sir? Anyway, sir. Problem is—Anand is dead. Unfortunately.

CHAPTER 2

Trouble’s coming.

Frank had been gone for at least ten minutes, but still Ellie sat cross-legged on the swing. A dull fear was creeping up her limbs, but she was doing her best not to fan its flames, willing her mind to ignore what her body was trying to tell her. That trouble was on its way.

A particularly rude clap of thunder shattered the cocoon of mindlessness that she had built for herself and jolted her back into the world. The road leading to the factory will be dark and muddy at this time, she thought. Even though Satish was an expert driver, she was worried. She thought of calling Frank to ask him to let her know when he arrived at the factory, but the memory of the ugliness of their fight stopped her. Also, something terribly serious must have happened for them to have disturbed Frank at this hour. He did not need an anxious wife to add to his troubles.

She had had no time to ask him what was making him rush back to work so late in the evening. After he’d gone in to answer the phone, she’d heard him dial a second number—calling Satish to come pick him up, Ellie now surmised—and then she’d heard him fumble around in the bedroom before coming back to poke his head in the door and announce that he’d be gone for a few hours. She had merely nodded dully. A few minutes later, she heard the kitchen door slam and later, the sound of a car pulling out of the driveway at the side of the house.

Now, she cocked her head to hear better her body’s fearful mutterings. What kind of trouble? she wondered. And was this a premonition or simply the sour aftertaste of the argument she’d had with Frank? What was frightening her so? Fear that Satish would make a wrong turn in the dark and that the car would spiral out of control? Fear that she and Frank were treading on dangerous ground, drifting apart, so that this grand experiment, this hope that India would heal them, would all be for naught? Ellie listened deeply to her body, the way she’d always advised her patients to. The body is wise, she’d often said to them. It often knows more—and sooner—than our brains do. But you have to learn how to listen to it, learn its language, the way you learn to understand an infant’s gobbledygook.

But the rain and thunder were distracting her, throwing her off. The scent of the earth, the coolness of the rain-soaked air, the flashes of the lightning, were too overpowering, pulling her in too many different directions, like Benny used to when they went to the Michigan State Fair.

Still, those two words, steady as a knock in the dark. Trouble’s coming.

I wish Frank would settle the labor dispute already, she thought, and then she was backing into the source of her fear. Almost immediately, her body relaxed as if, having relayed its message to her brain, it could now take the evening off. But what the fuck could be so wrong that they had to call him at home tonight? She realized she’d said the words out loud, but the rain coming down so hard erased the distinction between thoughts and words. Besides, she was annoyed now at how abruptly Frank had left, withholding information from her, leaving her to rock restlessly on the swing, her earlier serenity replaced by agitation and fear. Screw you, Frank, she said loudly, making sure that the rain could not drown out her words.

Fear had made her sit still; now, a simmering anger at Frank replaced it and it made her restless. She pushed the button on the large, cheap Timex men’s watch she had bought at Agni Bazaar last month, and its dial lit up in green. Eight twenty, it read. She thought quickly. If there was something going on at the factory, surely Shashi would’ve heard about it. As the owner of a large four-star hotel in the next town of Kanbar, Shashi employed the relatives of many of the men who worked for HerbalSolutions. And his wife, Nandita, Ellie’s best friend, also kept a close watch on the situation at HerbalSolutions. Shashi went to bed early, but Nandita would definitely be up. For the first time, Ellie was grateful that all the relaxation techniques she had taught Nandita to help with her insomnia had not taken.

She had just gotten her feet into her slippers and was heading for the phone in the living room when she heard the timid knock on the door. She stopped. What the hell? And then she remembered. Of course. It was Ramesh, coming over to do his homework with Frank. In the unusual excitement of the phone call and Frank’s abrupt leaving, she had forgotten all about Ramesh.

Before she could reach the kitchen, the door opened and Ramesh walked in. Ellie felt a mixture of bemusement and irritation. A few months ago, she had taught the boy that it was bad manners to walk into someone’s home without knocking. So now he knocked in a perfunctory manner and then let himself in. She was debating whether it was time for Lesson 2, but Ramesh had spotted her in the living room and, dropping his books on the blue-painted kitchen table, he skipped toward her. Hi, Ellie. He grinned. And before she could reply, "Where’s Frank? I’m having two tests tomorrow and so much homework."

No self-respecting American boy would look so gleeful at the thought of homework, Ellie thought. But then, she knew that the enthusiasm was not so much for the homework as for the bliss of spending another evening with his beloved Frank. She smiled ruefully to herself at the realization. Watching Frank and Ramesh together made her feel like the odd man out, like the third wheel, like—what was that Hindi expression Nandita used?—something to the effect of the bone in the meat kebab. So different from the close, joint-circuit feeling she used to have when she watched Frank and Benny indulge in their usual horseplay or when all three of them walked around their neighborhood together and Benny had eyes only for his father, playing tag with him, racing up Fair Hill with him, or playing that silly game where they counted the numbers on the license plates of passing cars to see if they added up to 21. They would cajole Ellie to join in, and she, wanting only to take a relaxed, leisurely evening walk, would refuse. And father and son would mock her for not being into competitive walking and climbing and counting. But somehow even their teasing, their mocking, included her, made her feel part of a triangle, valued, a straight man to their clowning around.

Where’s Frank? Ramesh said again, and she forced herself to pay attention to the boy.

He’s out, sweetie. I’m afraid he won’t be home until late tonight.

Ramesh looked outraged. Where he go?

So direct, so blunt. It was a trait she had noticed in many of the Indians she’d come in contact with. Was there an Indian Miss Manners, she wondered, someone who could teach them the virtues of evasion, of subtlety, of telling the truth slant? But most of the time Ellie felt happy to be among people who did not play games, to whom the very expression playing games meant a vigorous game of hockey or cricket. A practical, literal people. Frank, she knew, was appalled by how bluntly his employees spoke, saw it as rudeness, crassness. And in the beginning she, too, was unnerved by it, by the lack of artifice, by the absence of the sheen of politeness that covered all interactions in America like Saran Wrap. Except for the clerks working in the fancy shops of Bombay, no one in India said inane things like Have a nice day. Once, soon after they’d moved to Girbaug, Ellie had told Edna to have a nice day and Edna had replied, Only if God’s willing, madam, if God’s willing.

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  • (3/5)
    interesting culturally about an American family going to India to run a company with good intentions that go bad. Very bad.some good writing, but the story line felt pushed to make a point
  • (5/5)
    Wonderfully written story about a couple who loses a child and decides to move to India to give their marriage a chance to survive. While in India, the father becomes attached to an impoverished Indian child. He appears to be replacing the loss of his son which brings him down a path which he cannot recover from.Gives a realistic look at how hard it is to lose a child and how the grief never abates-you just get better at hiding it.
  • (4/5)
    With the devastating death of their 7-year-old boy, Frank accepts his boss's offer to run the company in India. Frank and his wife, Ellie, pack up their belongings, rent out their home in Ann Arbor, MI (Go Blue!) and fly off to discover a new land, a new life and new personal discoveries.I had slight variations in my feelings as I travelled through this book. The beginning was engaging. The characters had real-life qualities that created a desire to follow their story to see how they would deal with their loss and the adjustment of living in a foreign country. The middle lost some of the spark and drive. There was a shift in time, so the content had a more settled-in feeling, and frankly, I was more interested in getting back to the current story. Then the ending - it was dramatic.Like all people, Ellie and Frank deal with the death of their son in their own ways; however, there's a palpable, life-breathing ache inside Frank that can touch even the coldest soul.Originally posted on: Thoughts of Joy
  • (3/5)
    I love Thrity Umrigar's writing, I get lost in individual sentences and marvel at what they convey. A story of loss and the extreme impact that can have on our lives. Umrigar draws you into the scene and the emotions of the individuals - the readiness to leave everything known to escape that tragedy that remains, the determination to find something to replace the loss, and the evolution of horrible decisions that you want to pull the characters back from making. The ending was awful, but it won't deter me from reading more of her books.
  • (5/5)
    Umrigar's writing is simply incredible. When she writes about the anguish Frank feels when he finds out his son is in a coma, you can hear the sound coming out of his mouth. When she writes about India, you can see it, you can smell it, you feel such pain for the way these people live. There was not a character I didn't care about, one way or another. And just when you thought you knew how you felt about someone, something would happen to change your mind and make you realize that all of these characters are multidimensional. Heartbreaking and beautiful.
  • (5/5)
    I love the way Thrity Umrigar writes. She has powerful descriptions of feelings. In "The Weight of Heaven" we meat Frank and Ellie who have to cope with the lost of their 7 yr old son Benny. We go forward and back with this story and the very real and raw emotions they both experience. They move to India where Frank will manage a factory there and they try to get on with life. Frank immediatly falls for a young local boy, Ramesh, and it's clear to us all but frank that he is trying to replace his dead son.While in India we get to learn a lot abut the culture there and see how both Frank and Ellie deal with cultural and moral issues. The toughest part of this novel is believing the change in Frank that turns him into a obsessed and unhinged person. Umrigar pulls if off though as she is a gifted storyteller.
  • (5/5)
    As a special treat for myself, I pulled this book off my shelf, I love Thrity Umrigar's books and The Weight of Heaven turned out to be an emotional experience. I did shed some tears and also got very angry.Frank and Ellie Benton, living in Ann Arbor, Michigan lost their only child, Benny, to meningococcal infection. Frank is a business man for a company that sells medical products and Ellie is a therapist. When their boy dies, it brings havoc to their marriage. Frank blames Ellie for taking a short break from her sixteen hour stint of caring for their very sick son. His temperature was better before she collapsed from exhaustion and he was half way around the world on business. Ellie wants an escape from the constant grief and a new start that might help them to repair their marriage. She pushes hard for the move when Frank gets an offer from his company to manage a factory in Girbang, India. He didn’t like the idea at first but later on, he relents.They meet Ramesh who was a bit older than Benny and lives in a small shack that came with the property that they were staying. Ramesh’s father, Prakash does the cooking and his mother, Edna does the cleaning for the Benton’s. Ramesh is a delightful, intelligent but limited in education and social experience. Frank quickly becomes attached to him. Ellie finds comfort with her new friends.This book took a big turn about half way through. I was shocked and surprised at what happened. India’s class system is very present and Ellie is shocked at how poor the really poor are in India. There is spirituality, a rich appreciation of the cultural divide between the Western and India and a great deal of emotional torment in this story. The author, Thirty Umrigar is a master at creating emotionally powerful scenes and characters that are real and unforgettable.I highly recommend this book to all who want understand the grieving process and want to learn more about India.
  • (5/5)
    An absolutely beautiful novel about a couple who is grieving for the death of their only son and how they deal with their loss. Also about the gap between rich and poor in India, corruption, and the high cost of the choices people make. Highly recommended.
  • (4/5)
    This book took me longer to get into than Umrigar's previous book - "The Space Between Us", but eventually the story of parents who lost their son to illness settled in. Frank's decision to try to replace their son with the child of their servants leads to unforeseen consequences.
  • (4/5)
    In the years following the sudden death of their seven-year-old son, Benny, Michigan residents Frank and Ellie Benton have witnessed the steady deterioration of their marriage. So when Frank’s boss offers him a position overseeing a company factory in the rural Indian city of Girbaug, Ellie convinces her husband it’s just the change they both need. From the start, Ellie, a therapist, basks in her new life, making friends with townspeople and volunteering her services at a nearby clinic. But Frank’s work brings endless grief. His company, Herbal Solutions, has taken over land containing trees that locals have long harvested for their medicinal properties. (One Girbaug resident is so despondent over his loss of income, he takes his own life.) Frank’s world brightens when he befriends Ramesh, the charming, inquisitive son of the Bentons’ housekeeper and cook. Ramesh soon becomes a surrogate for Benny in a relationship that simultaneously boosts Frank’s spirits and breaks his heart when he accidentally causes Ellie's death
  • (4/5)
    "The Weight of Heaven" proves almost too much to bear for the protagonist couple in Thrity Umrigar's novel. The only way to survive the death of their son seems to be to redefine the nature of God into a spirit of "apathy" and indifference. This redefinition leads to tragedy. This novel is about the tragic consequences of loss played out across culture and between individuals. The novel has a good plot and very believable characters with a strong dash of moral dilemma.
  • (5/5)
    This book was really great. I stayed up 'till 1:30 AM to finish it and it has quite a twist at the end!It is about the different ways people deal with grief, loss, and change. It takes place mostly in India. Althought mainly about a couple who have lost their only child, it is also about the effects globalization has on a small village. I highly recommend this book.
  • (5/5)
    This is probably the best book I have read so far this year. Imagine the unimaginable. A couple loses their only child. They move to India to try and find a new life, one that does not remind them every waking minute of their son Benny. The character development is brilliant and what I loved most of all.. Unpredictable.
  • (4/5)
    Clear some time from your schedule when you start to read this. Once you reach a critical point, you won't be able to focus on anything else until you reach the end. Thrity Umrigar emotionally lassos the reader in, and doesn't let go, even when you are screaming inside.
  • (4/5)
    I was first introduced to Thrity Umrigar through her novel, The Space Between Us. It was one of those novels that made the author an instant favorite of mine. I knew I had to read every book she wrote. I haven't quite managed that, but it's still something I'm working on. I followed The Space Between Us up with Bombay Time and now The Weight of Heaven.What I love most about Thrity Umrigar is her gift for drawing out the emotions of her characters. The reader gets to know them through and through, feel what they are going through, know what they are thinking, and feel like we know them just as well as we do ourselves. At least that's how it is for me.The Weight of Heaven is more than what it might first appear. An American man and woman grieving for their lost son move to India in hopes of reconnecting with each other and starting a new life. Their 7-year-old son had been their world. His death has torn them apart. Frank Benton blames his wife, Ellie, for their son's death, despite her doing everything she could to save him. His anger has put a wall between them that, at times, seems insurmountable.Ellie is determined to save her marriage, while Frank, haunted by the memories of his son, turns his affections toward an Indian boy, Ramesh, the son of the household cook and maid. In his own way, Frank wants to piece his family back together. However, the path he chooses to do that will have drastic consequences.Ellie comes to love India, both the culture and the people. She is a psychologist and volunteers her time helping the people of Girbaug, the community in which they reside. She is well liked not only by the other characters in the book, but by me as well. She was not perfect by any means, but she has good sense and a thoughtful manner about her.Frank's experience in India is much different. He runs the Indian division of an American company and faces constant conflict with his low paid workers and the locals whose land the company bought from the government. He has a more cynical view of the country. The death of an employee rattles him, especially the circumstances surrounding that death. And on top of that is his own overwhelming grief for his son.I will be honest. I never grew to like Frank. I wanted to, at least on some level. I tried to understand him, knowing that people deal with their grief differently. His pain was palatable as was Ellie's. I wanted so much to reach into the book and comfort them both. I wanted to save Frank from himself. Because, even if I didn't care much for Frank or the decisions he made, I still felt for him, could see how the life he is trying to put together for himself is unraveling. He truly is a lost soul, who, in his desperation, made the wrong choices.I was most drawn to the story of Prakash and Edna, Ramesh's parents. Prakash, in particular. He is a complicated character with many layers. He was not the most likeable, I suppose, but, like Frank, there is a desperation about him, a longing. His only son is being showered with affection by an American man, offered things Prakash could not offer Ramesh. His once happy marriage is not so good anymore. His life was not what he wanted it to be. Edna only wants what is best for her son. She is torn between her loyalty to her family and letting her son experience the finer things in life. Where her husband drinks himself into a stupor and hardly spends time with their son, here is a wealthy American family who encourages his education and welcomes Ramesh into their home.Just as the personal aspects of the novel are emotionally charged, so are the social issues brought to the forefront: the impact of globalization on a small community and the cultural clashes between the Indians and the foreigners. The author offers a look into varying perspectives, providing a well rounded picture of the world and the characters she has created in the novel. And, although I am not going into depth about this aspect of the book, it was perhaps the piece I found most intriguing of all.I barely have touched on the surface of the novel. It is multi-faceted to be sure. It is rich in culture and character. The Weight of Heaven was in some ways just as I expected, but it also held much surprise. It was not quite the novel I expected it to be. Thrity Umrigar proved yet again why she is one of my favorite authors.Source: Bought Myself
  • (4/5)
    A great novel about the differences in class in India. One character is from the "upper" class and the other works in her household as a member of the "lower" class. However, their lives, struggles, hopes, and problems intertwine. It's a touching novel and incredibly well-written.
  • (3/5)
    This book is about a couple who lose their son and move to India to try and get past their loss. The husband becomes obsessed with another families son and the extremes he goes to to keep him in his life was not at all what I expected.
  • (4/5)
    The Short of It:An emotional story about love and loss and so much more. The Weight of Heaven demands your attention, shakes you up, then leaves you heavy with the weight of it.The Rest of It:This is a wonderful, meaty book. As you can imagine, the death of a child is a delicate subject. There’s something incredibly tragic about losing a child. Even when the child is gone, his memory lives on in everyday things… a stray toy found under the couch, the shoe that lost its mate some time ago, etc. As Ellie and Frank cope with their devastating loss, it’s obvious to Ellie that Frank is having a particularly hard time of it. When an opportunity comes up for Frank to transfer to Girbaug, India, he doesn’t think much of it. The thought of leaving seems almost more painful but Ellie encourages him to accept the offer. Perhaps change is what they need.Frank’s company puts them up in corporate housing which includes the use of a servant couple, named Edna and Prakash. Edna and Prakash live in a smaller house on the same property, with their son Ramesh, a very precocious nine-year-old. During their time in India, Frank befriends Ramesh and tutors him in math. Frank cherishes his moments with Ramesh, but Ellie worries that Frank is trying to replace the son he lost.Unfortunately, Ramesh’s father, Prakash also thinks the same thing. Prakash resents Frank’s attention towards his son. The extravagant gifts, the promises of a better education, basically, his help in general. Prakash, although a hard worker, resents having to work for a white man. This is obvious. However, Edna, Prakash’s wife thinks the exact opposite. She gushes over Frank’s generous offers. She sees Prakash as a failure and treats him as such. Cursing him and openly wishing that she’d married someone else. As much as these two fight, there is love but frustration gets the best of them.In addition to Frank’s relationship with Ramesh, there is also Ellie’s desperate attempt to hold onto Frank. As the days pass, she feels that she is losing him. The only time that he seems happy is in the presence of Ramesh and this saddens Ellie. Instead of turning to her, he turns to Ramesh to ease his pain. However, Ellie loves Frank with all her heart and wants to see him happy, so she gives into his requests to be with Ramesh and often joins them in an attempt to see what Frank sees in this child. They decide to take Ramesh to Bombay, or Mumbai as it is now called for a weekend trip:"Bombay. Such a deceptive word, so soft-sounding, like sponge cake in the mouth. Even the new name for the city, Mumbai, carries that round softness, so that a visitor is unprepared for the reality of this giant, bewildering city, which is an assault, a punch in the face."During this visit, even Ramesh is affected by the level of poverty. As they arrive at their 4-star hotel, Ramesh is overwhelmed by its opulence. Stunned. Speechless. Ellie regrets for a moment that they didn’t consider his reaction to such an extravagant hotel. However, this is how it is throughout the story, Frank wants to give Ramesh what he cannot afford on his own, but in doing so, inadvertently asserts his money and power over the poorer people around him.Even at work, Frank is constantly at battle with the laborers. Trying to do what’s right, but not fully understanding the impact of his company’s actions. The constant class struggle, his overwhelming love of Ramesh, and the fragile love that he has for Ellie and hers for him. This story triggers a whirlwind of feelings, smells and sounds. At first I was devastated by their loss. Umrigar’s writing is so rich and beautiful that I shed a tear once or twice while reading about Benny and how he died and the pain that Ellie and Frank felt afterward.Other times I was very angry. I was angry that Frank could not see what he was doing to Prakash. Turning a man’s son away from his father is a wretched thing to do, regardless of how abrasive Prakash was at times. I was also angry at how oblivious he was to the working conditions of his laborers. This also filtered down to Ellie a bit, although my reaction to her was not nearly as severe. Ellie loves India and its people, but she too, chooses to bully them at times when she sees the need to do so. One moment that comes to mind is when she is trying to convince Prakash to allow Ramesh to take a trip with them. She threatens him, and he is forced to agree although it tears him apart to do so.As you can see, this novel evokes all sorts of emotion. I cried, I laughed I got angry. Through it all, I didn’t want it to end. I lingered on each page to bask in its beauty. Although these characters are far from perfect, they are easy to relate to. Every time I picked the book up I was completely absorbed by the story.The Weight of Heaven is the perfect book club book. There’s just so much to discuss. This is my first experience with Umrigar’s work. Now I must go read her other books as this one was just wonderful. If you like a book to sweep you up and take you to another place, a book that really forces you to think about the world around you, then you will love this book.Source: A big ‘thank you’ to TLC Book Tours for asking me to be a part of this tour and for providing me with a review copy of the book.
  • (4/5)
    I fell in love with Thrity Umrigar's The Space Between Us when I read it several years ago and was quite excited to see that a new book of hers was being released. This is a very different story than that one was though, a look at Indian/American relations on both a global and a personal level.Frank and Ellie, two Americans from Michigan, have moved to rural India after the unexpected and breathtaking loss of their seven year old son Benny. They hope that with Frank's acceptance of the head position at a progressive, liberal-minded multinational company's factory in Girbaug, India they will start to heal themselves, face their grief, and save their suffering marriage. What happens, in fact, could never have been predicted. Over the two years since Benny died, Frank becomes deeply emotionally attached to Ramesh, the young son of his and Ellie's housekeeper and cook. Ramesh is a smart child who faces no future in the small village, both because of the lack of opportunity and because his parents are a mixed marriage, Hindu and Christian, and therefore not accepted by the community. Ramesh thrives under Frank's interest and tutelage while Ellie is made terribly uncomfortable by Frank's growing obession with the boy she sees as usurping the space Benny would have occupied had he lived. Aside from Ramesh, Frank does not much like India, tolerating it as best he can. Ellie, on the other hand, is thriving in this totally foreign culture, helping out in the village by teaching and counseling the women. Her humanitarian impulses remain unchecked while Frank turns more cynical, exposed as he is to the underbelly of the business world.Umrigar not only develops the personal angle in this story but she also focuses in on the impact of business and globalization on both the haves and the havenots. The workers at the factory are not only being paid barely subsistence wages, but the villagers are also angry that HerbalSolutions is treating the girbal trees they have come to see as their birthright as private property all because the corrupt and distant national Indian government has leased the trees to the company. When a worker, the local union man, dies after police roughing him up, things get tense. And there's no easy answer here given the general good character and responsibility of the company set against a way of life they didn't know they were disrupting. Neither the company nor the villagers are entirely in the right but there is certainly a fairly pervading sense of American might making right, even amongst the most liberal when their backs are against the wall.Umrigar ratchets up the tension throughout the novel so that the reader knows a big explosion is coming and that nothing good can come of it. But she manages to use Frank's increasing instability to bring the novel to a shocking conclusion, one that offers no easy answers for those who live and work in the global world. Right and wrong, intrinsic morality and gross disappointment thread through both narrative arcs here. Ellie and Frank's grief for their lost son is palpable and the growing menace of life in Girbaug seems to take on a life of its own so that the reader is compelled to turn the pages faster and faster wanting to escape the desperate sadness and yet needing to slow down and keep the ending at bay for a little longer. Frank and Ellie are a bit black and white as characters but Edna and Prakash make up for that, being more multi-faceted. The business situation with all its complications, stresses, looming troubles, and cultural misunderstandings rings quite true. Umrigar has written a book that will linger in the reader's mind for a long time. Those who are as fascinated by South Asian literature as I am will definitely want to pick this one up.
  • (4/5)
    After the death of their seven year old son Benny, Americans Frank and Ellie Benton relocate to India. Ostensibly, the move is a career opportunity for Frank, but the real reason seems to be an effort to put Benny's death behind them. Although Ellie finds comfort and solace in her volunteer activities and close friends, Frank finds India harder to negotiate. He is working for a company that is mindlessly exploiting the country's natural resources, and labor disputes and anger abound among his workers. Frank's only happiness is his odd relationship with the young charismatic son of his housekeeping couple, Ramesh. Frank has taken the boy under his wing for tutoring and mentoring, despite the anger and resentment that it causes Ramesh's father, Prakash. As Ellie struggles with Frank's emotional distancing from herself, she also comes to resent Frank's growing obsession with the young Indian boy. Frank, oblivious to those around him, begins to contemplate dangerous plans for himself and Ramesh. He begins to put into motion a series of events that will devastate the life and family that he loves, changing the fates of the people around him forever. Both lucid and frightening, The Weight of Heaven expertly examines the mind of man filled to the brim with compulsion and the chaos he leaves in his wake.It's funny, I consider Indian fiction to be one of my favorite genres, but looking back, I see that I have not really read any books that fit this description in the almost three years that I have been blogging. When I was offered the chance to review this book by TLC Book Tours, I became very excited because I had previously read Umrigar's Bombay Time and had really enjoyed it. I felt that this book was a bit of a departure for the author. Instead of focusing intently on the vagaries of India and its inhabitants, this book mildly veers off into the suspense genre. Though suspense is not really my favorite genre, I did end up enjoying the book very much.About a third of the story, plot wise, focuses on American business practices in India. Umrigar uses her fictional framework to show what can only be called American bullying and slyness in acquiring and exploiting a specific natural resource of the country. It turns out that this resource is something that sustains the local people and that they are being restricted from using it, as American interests have bought complete ownership of the land and everything on it. This causes major problems in the local economy and the well-being of the people. I felt these sections to be very candid and thought provoking. It is only fairly recently that the American population is getting a whiff of what other countries think about us, and I have to be honest in saying that sometimes we do come across as a bullying and exploitative group. Umrigar shows this in her writing without name calling and ostracising, and in her efforts to humanize these issues, makes her point very eloquently.I found the relationship between Frank and Ramesh to be very puzzling at first. Frank, a grown man, was constantly searching out the young boy to play and study with, ignoring his wife's protests and reservations. Upon closer inspection, I began to see that Frank was actually trying to recreate the life of his son, using the young boy as a stand-in. What was once strange became harrowing when Frank's obsession began to grow out of control. His usurping of Ramesh, despite the anger of the boy's father, seemed at first selfish and then began to become alarming. As Frank's preoccupation with the boy grows, his life begins to spin out of control, first at work and then at home with Ellie. I felt like Frank was more than a little mentally unbalanced, though he managed to hide his true intentions and feelings from almost everyone, including Ramesh.The end of the book had a pretty substantial twist that left my mouth dry and my heart pounding. It is at this point that Frank has become totally unhinged and makes some choices that not only leave lasting repercussions, but also change the barometer of the story. Umrigar effortlessly turns the tide in her tale from a quiet and thoughtful character study into a full-fledged and riveting drama. Watching Frank turn from a seemingly benign father figure and husband into a cold and calculating schemer turned my insides cold and left me feeling a sense of dread that was fully realized at the story's conclusion. Umrigar dealt a forceful blow in her tale and the story never felt any less organic for all her skillful manipulations of the narrative.I think this book has a lot of cross-genre appeal and that many would find the story hard to put down. With her clear and concise writing and her expert handling of emotional and charged situations, Umrigar manages to create a powerful and energetic story that both engages and frightens with it's believability. I also think that those who enjoy Indian fiction would love this book, despite its focus on American characters. I know that this book is one that I will definitely read again, with an eye towards monitoring Frank's downward spiral more closely. A unique and tense read. Recommended.
  • (5/5)
    Thrity Umrigar's The Weight of Heaven is a heavy with grief, emptiness, and struggle. The Bentons (Ellie and Frank) lose their son, Benny, at age seven from meningococcus. Ellie has liberal leanings politically and is a therapist to clients in Ann Arbor, Mich., while Frank is a proud, American business executive with residual issues of abandonment. The loss of a child can be daunting for any family, and it is clear how grief of this magnitude can slowly rip a family apart."And now they were two. Benny was gone. What was left behind was mockery -- objects and memories that mocked their earlier, smug happiness. Benny was gone, an airplane lost behind the clouds, but he left behind a trail of smoke a mile long:" (Page 2)As this American couple struggles with the loss of their son, Ellie and Frank embark on a new life in India when Frank is transferred to a new HerbalSolutions factory. The distance between them had gaped wide by this point, and both hope that the experience will help them repair their relationship and bring them closer to one another. However, in rural India with its impoverished population, Frank and Ellie find that their values change and their current circumstances and grief dictate their reactions to one another, their servants, the local community, and other expatriates."Now she was trying to control the sway of her hips, trying hard to resist the tug of the pounding drums that were making her lose her inhibitions, making her want to dance manically, the way she used to in nightclubs when she was in her teens. But that was the beauty of the dandiya dance -- it celebrated the paradoxical joy of movement and restraint, of delirium within a structure. This was not about individual expression but about community." (Page 220)Readers will be absorbed by the local community and its traditions, the struggles of the Benton's servants, and the stark beauty of India. But what really makes this novel shine is the characters and their evolution from idealistic college students and young parents to a grief-stricken and dejected married couple in a foreign nation. The tension between Frank and Ellie is personified in the dichotomous views each character reveals to the reader about the Indian community from the lax work environment and labor disputes at Frank's factory to the deep-rooted sense of community and communion with nature shown through Ellie's interactions with individuals at a local clinic.The Weight of Heaven is more than a novel about grief; it is about how grief can distort perception and push people to make life-changing decisions that can broaden their horizons and transform them forever. Umrigar's prose is poetic and full of imagery that paints a vivid picture of India and its rural community and its city life in Mumbai/Bombay. Class differences, the struggles of American expatriates, grief, death, and marital woes are explored deftly in this novel, and it is clearly one of the best novels of 2010.
  • (4/5)
    Thrity Umrigar has written another amazing novel. The prose is excellent and the character development superb. A couple who lose their young son are devastated but deal with the loss in different ways. The mother, initially the less likeable of the two, ends up showing strength and courage. The father, initially open and likeable, deteriorates into appalling self absorption and is unable to come to terms with the loss. The culture clash of the young American businessman in India is a well played, if subtle, sub-story. The young American businessman, at the end of the book, after having capitulated to the poor villagers living in the area on the advice of his wife and Indian friends following strikes, remains too self absorbed to feel pity on the poverty striken workforce who he will largely replace with the introduction of some advanced machinery.
  • (4/5)
    I have enjoyed other books by this author and did enjoy this one also, although I did think the grief of the parents was overplayed to the point of being maudlin and offputting. The ending was very good and I would recommend this book to certain people.
  • (4/5)
    When a couple loses their beloved son, their marriage starts to break up. They move to India, hoping a change of scene will help. The husband becomes obsessed with a bright, but poor, Indian boy, who becomes for him a replacement for his lost son.
  • (3/5)
    It is probably impossible for anyone to truly understand the grief that comes with losing a child, but Thrity Umrigar, in her new novel “The Weight of Heaven” does a commendable job of helping the reader feeling the pain, anger and frustration that her characters are suffering through after the death of their seven-year-old son, Benny. To escape constant reminders of their son, Frank and Ellie Benton accept a job in India, hoping that a change in location will bring with it a change in attitude. Ellie embraces the colors, tastes and sumptuous sensations of India. She makes friends and meets locals through her volunteer work at a neighborhood clinic. Frank quickly becomes entranced with young Ramesh, the son of their maid and cook, and manages to avoid thinking about the negative impact HerbalSolutions, the company he works for, has had on the lives of the locals. As Frank and Ellie become more involved with the inequities of class distinctions that surround them, the strife and discord of the community become a perfect reflection of the seeming unfairness of life. Frank’s interest in Ramesh quickly flows from kindness to obsession and Ellie must walk an emotional tightrope in trying to reason with Frank. Too much pressure and she will seem hardhearted, too little and Frank may upset the precarious balance of Ramesh’s true family. “The Weight of Heaven” might go just a bit too far in demonstrating how far a person’s grief can lead them, but the provocative choices the characters make will provide great discussion points for interested book clubs.
  • (3/5)
    I got this as a freebie advance copy. So far, the tone is quite dark, almost bleak, as it depicts a couple struggling to accept the sudden death of their 7 year old son. They also struggle to fit into the cultural context as Americans in modern India.