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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A COMPELLING STORY OF LOVE AND LOSS, April 27 2009
Gail Cooke (TX, USA) - See all my reviews
Surely one of life's most devastating experiences is the loss of a child. Some practitioners say it is a loss from which one cannot ever completely recover. Others say not so. What most will agree is that each person responds to tragedy in a different way. Such is certainly the case with Frank and Ellie Benton in Thrity Umriger's intensely emotional The Weight Of Heaven.

A young American couple, Frank and Ellie lost their seven-year-old son, Benny, to a mysterious illness. It was quite unexpected, absolutely heartbreaking and, in their case, polarizing. Frank is unable to explain what happened to him. Following Benny's funeral he felt he should go to Ellie and say something brave and consoling. But, he did not know how. It was if she were a stranger. He equates his marriage to a book he had read in high school and Ellie a character in it that he had forgotten. They are surrounded only by memories, recollections that mock them - a mug that says #1 Mom, a small baseball glove.

Not too long after Benny's death Frank's boss asks him if he wants to head a new factory the company is building in Girbaug, India. Frank declines saying it is not a good time for him to relocate. But, when Ellie hears about the offer she insists that they go, seeing the move as a new start and, most importantly, an opportunity to salvage their marriage and their once shared happiness.

Thus, a clash of cultures and ideas begins. Frank at first looks down on the small city and its inhabitants. But eventually he is drawn to Ramesh, the nine-year-old son of their housekeepers, almost to the point of seeing him as a surrogate son. This was not at all in Ellie's plan but she feels there is little she can do.

Grief recovery can be a long, painful process; Umriger deftly paints this journey with deft and understanding pen. She is an extraordinary writer; The Weight Of Heaven merits not only attention but accolades as well.

- Gail Cooke
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "A place occupied by real people with their incessantly human needs.", April 14 2009
Thrity Umrigar has a distinctive capacity for presenting the unsettling impact of Anglo-Indian cross-cultural relations. In this novel she centers on a young American couple currently living in India and assesses the collateral damage and the heartbreaking fallout of the sudden death of their seven-year-old son. Frank Benton and his wife Ellie are on assignment in Girbaug, India, for NaturalSolutions, a multinational herbal remedy company. The discovery of a forest containing girbal leaves that HerbalSolutions now harvest and process in order to use as an alternative treatment to control diabetes are increasing the company's profits ten-fold, and consequently unexpected financial opportunities have appeared for Frank and his boss and best friend Pete Timberlake. HerbalSolutions has signed a fifty year lease to lease the thousands of acres of forest from the Indian state government. The local villagers, who have traditionally brewed, chewed, and even smoked the leaves of the girbal tree, are however, resist to the demands of the company, their troubled economy relying heavily on the trees.

The stage is now set as Umrigar begins her lyrical tale even as she counterbalances the death of a popular union leader and the germinating a labor dispute that begins to germinate with that of the devastating personal tragedy of Frank and Ellie, and their son Benny now gone, only his memories left behind "mocking their earlier smug happiness. Ellie tries to see India as a fresh start, a chance to save their troubled marriage, to start clean in a new place and the possibility of banishing their once Edenic life in Ann Arbor Michigan. In reality though, the move does little to assuage the couple's Ellie's bitterness and unspoken accusations. When the dark-haired, sharp-eyed Indian boy Ramesh, the "sunshine to Benny's moonlight" the son of Frank and Ellie's cook comes into their lives, Frank notices his heart awaken once again to all the proclivities of paternal love. The two form a bond, Ramesh rapidly becoming the only thing in Frank's life that can give him any solace and any sense of normalcy in this chaotic country

Ramesh's mother Edna is secretly thrilled at the prospect of her son being mentored by the wealthy Americans, but it is her drunken husband Prakash who threatens to derail Ramesh's new-found friendship. Living in a ramshackle hut just across the courtyard from the Benton's estate, Prakash spends much of his time seething with bitter jealousy, similarly envious, ashamed, and even obtuse to the point of blindness in matters involving the welfare of his son. In a turning of a giant spiritual wheel, Umrigar's vast, sweeping patch worked landscape is filled with small and intimate moments, as the frailty of human need and grief is made all too real, Prakash plotting revenge, Ellie's anxious need to save her troubled marriage, and Ramesh buoyed along by the hopes of a life in the United States. In desperation, Frank sets himself on an amoral path of destruction, caught up in his overwrought obsessions over the Indian boy, a disease of the soul, and of love, as Ramesh becomes his brightest star, "his sun without which his future looked barren and dark."

Meanwhile, the cacophony of India abounds, the songs and phrases and the sites, sounds and smells. Umrigar's chaotic country is filled overlapping images even as she weighs the notions of fate and destiny, good verses evil, all of her characters burdened by the awful weight of heaven. Her account of Frank and Ellie's innocent courtship in Ann Arbor half way through is quite beautiful, along with their sudden decent into heartache even as the graven images of them clustered at Benny's bedside seem all to much to tolerate. While the innocent Ramesh is caught up in the selfish needs of two men - in a classic struggle of two cultures - Ellie and Edna try to reach out to the men, desperate for them to see reason. Frank however, unwittingly sabotages all of their lives at every turn, the fragility of their existence in India put to a final test by a reckless decision. In a heart-stopping ending, Umrigar conveys a startling lesson, the sin of hubris carried to the extreme in the form of an appalling crime, which in turn changes Frank's life and the lives of Ramesh and Prakash forever. Mike Leonard April 09
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4.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking, Feb. 8 2014
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Well writen. Point of view explored from both parents when they lose a child and how it effects their lives.
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The Weight Of Heaven: A Novel
The Weight Of Heaven: A Novel by Thrity Umrigar (Paperback - Jan. 14 2010)
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