Tuesday, April 3, 2012
Review: The Weight of Heaven by Thrity Umrigar
Released: (Paperback) 2010
Source: Personal Copy
Frank and Ellie Benton were living on cloud nine with the birth of their son, Benny. When Benny succumbs to an infection, his parents are lost and a profound sense of loss sets in. They never expected that they would outlive their son. The perfect life they built was shattered without Benny. Their marriage quickly begins to deteriorate when they lay blame on each other and withdraw. When Frank is offered a job in India, Ellie jumps at the chance to move and hopefully start over. It doesn’t take much convincing before he accepts the job offer. Settling into life in India was easier for Ellie, Frank was faced with political unrest and labor strikes. The silver lining for Frank was their cook’s son, Ramesh. Frank sees great potential in Ramesh, and he convinces his parents to transfer his school. Frank absorbs the cost of the school, and despite Ramesh’s parents desires, he continues to buy him material goods that his parents could never afford. Tensions begin to rise and Ellie is not comfortable with opening her heart to Ramesh.
This is the second novel I have read by Thrity Umrigar, and I loved it! She is my new favorite author, and I’ll have to get the rest of her other books. She has a great ability to create multi-dimensional characters. I loved Ellie, but I was frustrated with her standoffish approach with Ramesh. I understood where she was coming from, but I wanted her and Frank to be happy again. Ellie had no problems adjusting to life in India, away from those who pitied her, away from the people who shared memories of her son. She felt that Benny was no longer just theirs; he was a shared memory amongst everyone. Meeting Benny’s teacher in the grocery store would send her in a tailspin; the awkward meetings would never go away. She would never get over the death of her son but she needed to learn to live with it. As Frank begins to pay more and more attention to Ramesh, and he disregards everyone’s warnings, I began to wonder where the book would lead. It seemed like he was adopting Ramesh as his own, and could care less about everyone else involved, including Ellie. Ramesh’s father is jealous of the man who can give his son everything. Frank clearly wants Ramesh to have a bright future, but poverty doesn’t mean abuse. Ramesh had parents who loved him, and tried their best. I struggled with how I really felt about Frank, I wanted to understand him but I couldn’t accept his actions. I really began to feel like the relationship was unhealthy; Frank didn’t know when to step away.
Umrigar’s prose is astonishing, filled with imagery that paints a vibrant picture of India. The Weight of heaven is fast paced, and emotional. Ellie and Frank were written very personally and honestly. Their thoughts don’t hold back, Umrigar depicts grief-stricken parents who are trying to move on but not forget their son. They’re trying to find a comfortable middle-ground, and time doesn’t really seem to be healing. The change of atmosphere doesn’t take away their memories. As Frank begins to spiral out of control, readers will want to reel him in, and put him on a better path. I was not prepared for the ending, and it will remain with me for a long time.
Overall, I highly recommend this one. Umrigar has amazing talent. Benny’s death is raw and emotional, the emotions his parents are left with are complicating. Despite my issues with Frank, I never disliked him, I was sympathic towards him, I wanted him to start making less emotional decisions. I needed him to start thinking rationally, and better informed.
Once again, highly recommended! There is so much to discuss with this book, I feel like I have just scratched the surface.