I discovered Thrity Umrigar in 2008, and she has since become a favorite author of mine. I felt honored to have received an advance copy of her new book: The Weight of Heaven, published by Harper Collins.
In her new novel we meet Frank and Ellie Benton, a grief stricken couple from Ann Arbor, Michigan, who have just lost their seven year old son Benny, after a short illness. Unable to cope with this horrific loss, Frank accepts a new assignment running a factory, Herbal Solutions, in Girbaug, India, a coastal village near Bombay.
Unfortunately, the factory and its Third World workers are in the midst of a labor dispute over low wages. Frank calls the workers "lazy", and his wife sees the workers as justified. Ellie sides with the workers, suggesting that Frank give them a few "rupees" to make them feel like they "won". Even in India, Frank and Ellie are conflicted. Frank has difficulties understanding why his workers don't act like his workers did in America. This additional conflict only adds to the pain he is still experiencing in India over the loss of his son. Ellie on the other hand sees her new surroundings as an opportunity to help the less fortunate women in the village (she is a psychologist/therapist), and believes there is so much to teach these poor women that she sees at a local health clinic. She is determined to not let grief define her life, because she believes her son would not have wanted that.
Frank before long begins to find some comfort tutoring Ramesh, the young son of the couple's housekeeper. The boy is very bright and eager to learn. Before long, his interest in helping the boy becomes an obsession and new conflicts arise between Frank and Prakash, the boy's resentful, bitter, father. Frank will do anything to keep that bright and personable boy close by, no matter what it takes.
The Weight of Heaven is a hauntingly beautiful story about cultural divides and misunderstandings. It is a story about loss and working through grief, and one of those rare books that forces you as the reader to take stock of your life, and to think about the things that really matter most. The ending is shocking, but in some strange way--- wonderful. I am happy to say that this is one of those rare books, that left an imprint with me long after the final page was turned. There are so many beautiful passages that I found myself reading over and over again; a true gem. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
DO NOT MISS THIS ONE!