Serena's Reviews > The Weight of Heaven

The Weight of Heaven by Thrity Umrigar
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Feb 09, 10

it was amazing
Read from February 02 to 08, 2010

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.
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