The Weight of Heaven

By THRITY UMRIGAR

Thrity Umrigar?s newest novel, The Weight of Heaven, straddles the United States and India as Frank and Ellie, a grieving American couple, relocate in the hope of healing the trauma of their only child’s death. Frank takes a position managing a factory in a small Indian town, and at first the move seems like the right one. Ellie feels at home in her adopted country, helping out in the village, teaching school and counseling women. But the company that owns the factory has leased the village?s trees from the Indian government and has prohibited the villagers from accessing what had been a source of medicine, shelter, and income for generations. Frank becomes the face of the company pillaging the village?s land, and violence follows him. Seeking solace, he turns to his servants? child, who he tries to shoehorn into the empty space left by his son’s loss. Rather than a fresh start, India soon becomes just a different setting for Frank and Ellie to splinter apart. We follow their breakdown moment-by-moment, like a slow-motion death spiral. Umrigar does seem to pull up, finding a lighter note as Ellie befriends former investigative journalist Nandita. Their friendship provides welcome air for both Ellie and the reader, but by its last quarter, the novel has set its course for tragedy. The drama centered around the factory proves a distraction from the story of Ellie and Nandita who, after following a once-unquestionable path — college, successful career, rewarding marriage — are left with an emptiness in their lives that neither woman seems interested in filling. This delicate and far more compelling story is overrun by the tale of rage, obsession and misery that dominates the rest of the novel.

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