The Weight of Heaven by Thrity Umrigar

Title:  The Weight of Heaven
Author:  Thrity Umrigar
Release date:  April 14, 2009
Publisher:  Harper
Pages:  384
Genre:  Adult fiction, multicultural fiction
Source:  Library

After the death of their seven-year-old son Benny, Frank and Ellie move from their home in Michigan to India, where Frank’s company offers him a promotion.  While the move was supposed to help heal their deteriorating marriage, it doesn’t seem to be working.  Frank is lost in his work, but unhappily so, as the plan he’s managing t in India is rife with problems.  He has also fallen for the son of their housekeeper, Ramesh, who is intelligent and wise beyond his station in life.  Ellie, meanwhile, is loving her new life in India.  She makes friends, volunteers at a nearby clinic, and soaks in the beautiful environment they are now living in.  But Ramesh continues to be a point of contention between Frank and Ellie – his parents are threatened by Frank’s involvement in their son’s life, and Ellie feels like Frank is simply replacing Benny.  The effects of globalization and an examination of one couple’s fraying marriage unite in this beautiful, well-written novel.

This is the third of Umrigar’s novels I’ve read, and the third I’ve been thoroughly impressed with.  Her beautiful prose carefully crafts the story of this damaged couple, and the story of Frank and Ellie instantly drew me into the novel.  The amount of heartbreak that the two of them had suffered was unimaginable, yet they were working hard to rebuild their frayed relationship.  I admired their strength and the effort they were putting into their marriage, yet I found them very realistic as they both had their faults.  I have to say that I liked Ellie a lot more than Frank; I just couldn’t “get” him.  I felt like whatever efforts Ellie made to repair things, he was never quite there with her.  He never quite got where she was coming from, and I found myself angry with him for blaming her for Benny’s death.  I also saw Ellie’s point of view so much more clearly when dealing with the Ramesh situation.  Frank was just so darn clueless when it came to that kid; he had no idea how his actions affected everyone else around him.

I found the discussion of the impact of globalization on this small Indian town very interesting.  I think Umrigar did a great job weaving the larger social issues in with Frank and Ellie’s personal story, and it definitely added to the story that Ellie and Frank were morally on opposite sides of the issue.

As usual, Umrigar’s prose is brilliant and beautiful, and in the hands of many other authors, this story may not have been nearly so fantastic.  But her writing completely makes the novel – it is a great story on its own, but her beautiful storytelling is what pulls everything together.  And the ending – what a shock that was.  I’m not sure how I feel about the events in the last thirty pages of the story, but I do know that I certainly wasn’t expecting the ending I got.  Still not sure if that’s good or bad but… oh well.

The Weight of Heaven is an absolutely gorgeous novel, exactly what I’ve come to expect from Thrity Umrigar.  I highly recommend this as well as her other novels.

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15 thoughts on “The Weight of Heaven by Thrity Umrigar

  1. This book really sounds good. I like that it’s a little bit of a reverse novel – from the States to India, with Americans as protagonists. I love multicultural fiction and I might just have to add this to the ever-growing Mount TBR.

    1. Yes, the fact that the novel centered around people who moved from the US to India, instead of the other way around, was very interesting. I would definitely recommend reading this book, as well as Umrigar’s other novels, if you enjoy multicultural fiction.

  2. This was the first book by her that I read and I loved it too. She did a wonderful job with the personal familial issues and with the globalization issues as well. 🙂

  3. Oh, I’ve heard really good things about this book, and Umrigar generally. I keep meaning to get it – it sounds like something I’d really enjoy!

  4. Hi Heather,

    I have been addicted to “multicultural fiction” ever since I read Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance. Umrigar is at the top of my must-read author’s list and after reading your review, I will be going out to get a copy asap. Do you have any other recommendations for “foreign” authors? I seem to be drawn to south-asian and central african authors.

    I love your blog and check it consistently to update my to-read list!

    Thanks!
    Shannon

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