The Weight of Heaven: A Novel

The Weight of Heaven: A Novel

4.3 23
by Thrity Umrigar

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When Frank and Ellie Benton lose their only child, seven-year-old Benny, to a sudden illness, the perfect life they had built is shattered. Filled with wrenching memories, their Ann Arbor home becomes unbearable, and their marriage founders. But an unexpected job half a world away offers them an opportunity to start again. Life in Girbaug, India, holds

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When Frank and Ellie Benton lose their only child, seven-year-old Benny, to a sudden illness, the perfect life they had built is shattered. Filled with wrenching memories, their Ann Arbor home becomes unbearable, and their marriage founders. But an unexpected job half a world away offers them an opportunity to start again. Life in Girbaug, India, holds promise—and peril—when Frank befriends Ramesh, a bright, curious boy who quickly becomes the focus of the grieving man's attentions. Haunted by memories of his dead son, Frank is consumed with making his family right—a quest that will lead him down an ever-darkening path with stark repercussions.

Filled with satisfyingly real characters and glowing with local color, The Weight of Heaven is a rare glimpse of a family and a country struggling under pressures beyond their control. In a devastating look at cultural clashes and divides, Umrigar illuminates how slowly we recover from unforgettable loss, how easily good intentions can turn evil, and how far a person will go to build a new world for those he loves.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Umrigar (The Space Between Us) continues her exploration of cultural divides in this beautifully written and incisive novel about an American couple's experience in India. Frank and Ellie Benton, grappling with the death of their seven-year-old son, move from Ann Arbor, Mich., to Girbaug, India, where Frank takes a job running a factory. While he tackles the barriers faced by an educated, wealthy American in charge of a Third World work force, Ellie, a psychologist, makes inroads with the impoverished locals at a health clinic. Frank has a difficult time adjusting at work, and at home he takes an interest in their housekeepers' son, Ramesh, and begins tutoring him. While Frank buries his grief by helping Ramesh, he ends up in competition with the boy's bitter father, Prakash, and further damaging his already troubled marriage. Umrigar digs into the effects of grief on a relationship and the many facets of culture clash-especially American capitalism's impact on a poor country-but it is the tale of how Frank's interest in Ramesh veers into obsession and comes to a devastating end that provides the gripping through line. Umrigar establishes herself as a singularly gifted storyteller. (Apr.)

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Library Journal

Frank and Ellie are two attractive people who have basically led charmed lives. Frank's absent father notwithstanding, they each grew up in fairly secure surroundings and attended college and professional school, meeting and marrying and living in bliss. Suddenly, the world spins out of control when their seven-year-old son dies from meningitis. Soon afterward, they have an opportunity to make a work-related move to a seaside town in India, providing the panacea that will help them heal from their loss. As educated, liberal, progressive Americans, they cannot anticipate how they will react as they become part of the class struggle within Indian society; nor can they know how attached they will become to the son of their servants. Although it may be risky to latch on to bright young Ramesh, they convince themselves that they are helping the boy by providing him with things that his parents could never afford. Self-deception runs rampant, and Frank is eventually overcome by emotional turmoil, which leads him to make a fatal error in judgment. Umrigar (First Darling of the Morning) finely plumbs the depths of the human heart, from the heights of joy and passion to the very deepest despair. Recommended for all fiction collections.
—Susanne Wells

Kirkus Reviews
Sorrow turns to obsession when Ellie and Frank Benton move from Ann Arbor, Mich., to India shortly after the death of their seven-year-old son. Frank's employer, HerbalSolutions, harvests and manufactures a diabetes remedy in the village of Girbaug, and Frank, at Ellie's urging, is to run the plant. They are escaping from the empty bedroom their son once occupied, from the empty weekends they fill with long aimless drives, from the thousand memories they have of their happy boy, killed quickly by meningococcal fever. In India, Ellie and Frank find a reprieve from their heartache, but escape is hardly a cure. After a year and a half, Ellie loves India, has found a best friend in former journalist Nandita and a sense of purpose in working to improve the lives of the villagers. For Frank, though, India offers no simple salve. As the symbol of corporate America using up its natural resources, he deals with labor disputes, bribery and even the death of a union activist who was trying to improve conditions at HerbalSolutions. The only bright spot for Frank is Ramesh, young son of the Bentons' maid and cook. As Frank becomes increasingly attached to the boy, his father Prakash becomes jealous, irritated by the rich Westerner who can lure his son with expensive gifts, free time and promises of an American education. It is obvious to Ellie that Ramesh is a replacement for their dead son, but what she can't fathom is Frank's vitriolic attitude toward Prakash, and increasingly, all India. Umrigar's portrait of Frank's descent into obsessive madness is well paced, as are her descriptions of the couple's loneliness together, but the novel stumbles with two long flashbacks-one describing Frank andEllie's courtship and the other Benny's death-that add little. By the end, Frank's preoccupation turns to wickedness and violence. Not as unified as Umrigar's previous novels (If Today Be Sweet, 2007, etc.), but an unflinching portrait of parental bereavement.

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HarperCollins Publishers
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Meet the Author

Thrity Umrigar is the author of five other novels—The World We Found, The Weight of Heaven, The Space Between Us, If Today Be Sweet, and Bombay Time—and the memoir First Darling of the Morning. An award-winning journalist, she has been a contributor to the Washington Post, Boston Globe, and Huffington Post, among other publications. She is the winner of the Nieman Fellowship to Harvard, Cleveland Arts Prize, and Seth Rosenberg Prize, and is the Armington Professor of English at Case-Western Reserve University.

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Weight of Heaven 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 23 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is probably one of the best books I've read all year. I loved it from the start. Loved most of the characters especially Ellie & Prakesh although I thoroughly despised Frank. It was heartbreaking and at times heartwarming. I don't want to give too much away, but this book will stay with me for a while. I highly recommend it as well as her other book The Space Beween Us. I will also soon be reading If Today Be Sweet. Can't wait for more from this very talented author.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Weight of Heaven was a good story, but the author goes off on too many "past" details that I found not relevant and so I did a lot of 'speed reading' and skipping to get through those areas. Not sure whether I would recommend it or not based on that aspect.
DoranneLongPTMS More than 1 year ago
This exceptionally well-written book is uncomfortable to read at times, but so very real. It is similar to Barbara Kingsolver's Poisonwood Bible, as it describes an American couple, who moved to India, and then try to reshape another country and culture into what suits them best. It is tragic how people can justify their actions with little awareness of their impact on others.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Interesting cultural, moral and emotional issues explored. The ending seemed unreal and abrupt, liked the book all throughout the end and then got disappointed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I couldn't put this down and didn't expect the ending. I can't wait to read more by this author.
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sandiek More than 1 year ago
Frank and Ellie Benton have suffered the ultimate parents' nightmare. Their seven year old son, Ben, was struck with a fast-moving infection and died almost overnight. Understandably, they are crushed. After months of plodding haplessly through their daily routines, an opportunity appears. Frank's company, a pharmacutical, gets the raw ingredients for their new top-selling drug from trees native to India. The company needs someone to go and head up operations there. Desperate for a change, the Bentons agree to move to India, hoping that it will be a fresh start in a place with no memories of their son. Ellie thrives there, making new friends and falling in love with India and its people. Frank has a rougher time. Frank's job provides problems along with the opportunities. The Indian workers are different from those he has managed in the past, creating conflict. There are bribes that are paid to local governments, a different scenario than he has encountered. Wages are low and working conditions are harder than in American factories. The biggest conflict concerns not only his workers but the entire area. The company has bought the rights to the trees that their top-selling drug is created from. The local population has used those trees for centuries, and have established harvests and markets. They are now forbidden to do so; their livlihood sold to a foreign company by their government. This creates constant tension and as things deteriorate, protests and riots. A new relationship starts to help Frank. He takes an interest in the son of their cook and housekeeper. This child, Ramesh, is a bright child, engaging and outgoing. Frank and Ellie offer to pay his tuition to a local private school. Soon they are taking him on weekend trips, and he is a guest at dinners they give for their friends--dinners prepared and served by his parents, who are there as servants rather than guests. Frank becomes more and more involved with Ramesh. Both Ramesh's parents and Ellie start to feel uncomfortable with his focus; Elllie because she thinks he is trying to replace their son, and the parents because he is weaning their son's allegience away. Things come to a head as Frank attempts to find a way to take Ramesh back to America when he and Ellie finish their tour in India. The book sweeps along to a shocking climax that the reader will not soon forget. I can't recommend this book highly enough. The writing is lush and quiet, but provides a steady increase of suspense. The conflicts between industrial nations and those countries providing resources and labor are starkly outlined. How marriages survive tragedies and the way individuals rebuild lives is explored in a deft manner, providing insights without being heavy handed. This book is recommended for all readers. It is a stunning book that the reader will remember for quite some time.
TiBookChatter More than 1 year ago
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.
harstan More than 1 year ago
Following the death of their seven years old son from meningitis, psychologist Ellie Benton persuades her spouse Frank that he should accept a position to run a HerbalSolutions factory in Girbaug, India as it will be easier to move past their grief if they leave Ann Arbor. He agrees. In the small village, Ellie adapts rather easily working at a clinic while Frank remains filled with grief and drifts away from his wife. His only solace is tutoring his housekeeper's son Ramesh, which is resented by the lad's father Prakesh. Meanwhile Ellie and Frank are on different sides of the issue of the trees as she defends the locals' use and he claims his company owns them under a lease agreement with the government. Investigative reporter Nandita meets Ellie and they become friends, which further alienates the American woman from her mate. Tragedy seems imminent as hostilities in the village over the trees grow. This is an entertaining tale of two kindhearted caring people whose outlook is different; as one adjusts while the other turns into the Ugly American who can only buy friendship with a replacement local child. The story line is fast-paced for the most part although a flashback to the Benton courtship feels like unnecessary padding as it adds nothing since the audience knows the couple is educated and liberal until a year or so passes in India. Still readers will appreciate this fine tale as the Benton couple serve as a microcosm of capitalist interests with opposite directions in how each adapts to residing in Girbaug. Harriet Klausner
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book offers a lot. A wonderful insight into the working of India politically and socially, both small town and city. Dramatic story line about heart breaking loss and the struggle to recover some sense of joy in daily life. The broken couple Ellie and Frank take very different paths to heal life's cruelty. Frank's struggles in particular are gripping and awful, and lead him down an unbelievable path. Never has metaphysics been so gripping, or obsession so palpable.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Having recently toured India, I felt connected with places that were described in the book. However, it was not too bogged down with details from a foreign country.