Monday, February 01, 2010

Review: The Weight of Heaven by Thrity Umrigar

A few days after Benny's death, Ellie and Frank Benton broke into separate people. Although they didn't know it then. At that time, all they could do was concentrate on getting through each bewildering day, fighting to suppress the ugly memories that burst to the surface like fish above water. [Prologue, page 2]

The Weight of Heaven by Thrity Umrigar
Harper Collins, 2009 (ISBN#978-0-06-147254-1)
Fiction; 365 pgs

I was first introduced to Thrity Umrigar through her novel, The Space Between Us. It was one of those novels that made the author an instant favorite of mine. I knew I had to read every book she wrote. I haven't quite managed that, but it's still something I'm working on. I followed The Space Between Us up with Bombay Time and now The Weight of Heaven.

What I love most about Thrity Umrigar is her gift for drawing out the emotions of her characters. The reader gets to know them through and through, feel what they are going through, know what they are thinking, and feel like we know them just as well as we do ourselves. At least that's how it is for me.

The Weight of Heaven is more than what it might first appear. An American man and woman grieving for their lost son move to India in hopes of reconnecting with each other and starting a new life. Their 7-year-old son had been their world. His death has torn them apart. Frank Benton blames his wife, Ellie, for their son's death, despite her doing everything she could to save him. His anger has put a wall between them that, at times, seems insurmountable.

Ellie is determined to save her marriage, while Frank, haunted by the memories of his son, turns his affections toward an Indian boy, Ramesh, the son of the household cook and maid. In his own way, Frank wants to piece his family back together. However, the path he chooses to do that will have drastic consequences.

Ellie comes to love India, both the culture and the people. She is a psychologist and volunteers her time helping the people of Girbaug, the community in which they reside. She is well liked not only by the other characters in the book, but by me as well. She was not perfect by any means, but she has good sense and a thoughtful manner about her.

Frank's experience in India is much different. He runs the Indian division of an American company and faces constant conflict with his low paid workers and the locals whose land the company bought from the government. He has a more cynical view of the country. The death of an employee rattles him, especially the circumstances surrounding that death. And on top of that is his own overwhelming grief for his son.

I will be honest. I never grew to like Frank. I wanted to, at least on some level. I tried to understand him, knowing that people deal with their grief differently. His pain was palatable as was Ellie's. I wanted so much to reach into the book and comfort them both. I wanted to save Frank from himself. Because, even if I didn't care much for Frank or the decisions he made, I still felt for him, could see how the life he is trying to put together for himself is unraveling. He truly is a lost soul, who, in his desperation, made the wrong choices.

I was most drawn to the story of Prakash and Edna, Ramesh's parents. Prakash, in particular. He is a complicated character with many layers. He was not the most likeable, I suppose, but, like Frank, there is a desperation about him, a longing. His only son is being showered with affection by an American man, offered things Prakash could not offer Ramesh. His once happy marriage is not so good anymore. His life was not what he wanted it to be. Edna only wants what is best for her son. She is torn between her loyalty to her family and letting her son experience the finer things in life. Where her husband drinks himself into a stupor and hardly spends time with their son, here is a wealthy American family who encourages his education and welcomes Ramesh into their home.

Just as the personal aspects of the novel are emotionally charged, so are the social issues brought to the forefront: the impact of globalization on a small community and the cultural clashes between the Indians and the foreigners. The author offers a look into varying perspectives, providing a well rounded picture of the world and the characters she has created in the novel. And, although I am not going into depth about this aspect of the book, it was perhaps the piece I found most intriguing of all.

I barely have touched on the surface of the novel. It is multi-faceted to be sure. It is rich in culture and character. The Weight of Heaven was in some ways just as I expected, but it also held much surprise. It was not quite the novel I expected it to be. Thrity Umrigar proved yet again why she is one of my favorite authors.

Book Source: I bought a copy of the book, which the author graciously autographed for me at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books in April of 2009. You can just imagine how excited and nervous I was to be meeting one of my favorite authors!

* (Very Good)

You can learn more about Thrity Umrigar and her books on the author's website. Be sure and check the TLC Book Tours website as well.

Many thanks to the TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to be a part of this book tour.

Thrity Umrigar's TLC Tour Stops:
Wednesday, February 3rd: Devourer of Books
Thursday, February 4th: Red Lady’s Reading Room
Tuesday, February 9th: Savvy Verse & Wit
Thursday, February 11th: Peeking Between the Pages
Monday, February 15th: Lit and Life
Wednesday, February 17th: Raging Bibliomania
Thursday, February 18th: Booksie’s Blog
Tuesday, February 23rd: BookNAround
Wednesday, February 24th: Dreadlock Girl Reads
Thursday, February 25th: Book Chatter

As part of the tour, the publisher sent me a trade paperback copy of the book. Since I already have my own copy, I am putting this one up for giveaway.

To Enter:
  • Leave a comment below and tell me why you want to read The Weight of Heaven.
  • Be sure and include your e-mail address if it is not easily visible from your website/blog.
  • The giveaway is open to anyone with a valid mailing address, regardless of country.
  • The deadline to enter is February 12th at 11:59 p.m. PST. The winners will be chosen at random through and the winners will be notified by e-mail. The winners names will be posted below once they are determined.
Good luck!

***Giveaway Closed***

Thank you to all of you who entered! I used to select the winner. Congratulations to Amanda from A Bookshelf Monstrosity!

© 2009, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved.
If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.


  1. I've had The Space Between Us sitting on my shelves for a while. It's moved up my TBR list now. Great review!

  2. I'll be reading this soon, so I skimmed your review. I could see that you liked it, though and that makes me happy. No need to enter me.

  3. I'm going to get started on this book this week and I cannot wait to read this author. I've heard great things about her. I also will be reading it for the S. Asian challenge and the TLC tour.

    Thanks for another great review.

  4. Wendy, I have this book and The Space Between Us here at home so I don't need to be entered. However, thanks for reminding me of my wish to read this author. I've thought one of these might be good for my book group later this year or next.

  5. No need to enter me, but thanks for such a thoughtful review. I have never read Umriger before, but she seems so well-liked by people whose opinions I really respect. So, maybe I should give her a go!

  6. I remember how excited you were about meeting the author at the FoB last year :-).

    This sounds like a book I'd definitely like to read. Novels that address the complications of human relationships and make an emotional connection are among my favorites. Would you consider that enough of a reason to enter me in the giveaway?

    3.rsblog AT Gmail DOT com

    Thanks for an excellent review, Wendy!

  7. That was really an incredible review! It sounds rather heavy. Still if you say she instantly became a favorite author, I must trust in your opinion! Please enter me!

    rnawrot at cfl dot rr dot com

  8. thanks for the review! I have heard wonderful things about this author and have The Space Between Us on my shelf and slated for the South Asian Authors Challegne.

    If I have the same reaction as you did to that novel and the author becomes an immediate favorite, it would be great to have this book to move on to - thanks for entering me!

    leenbeen2001 (at) yahoo (dot) com

    Colleen (Books in the City)

  9. Thank you for introducing me to a new author. I would love to win this book. But if I don't I'll definitely look out for books by the author to put on my TBR list.

  10. You can enter me--this sounds really interesting, and I keep hearing good things about it. Great review! Thank you :)

  11. I've read so many excellent reviews of Umrigar's books, and I'm also making an effort to read more globally, author-wise. Please include me in your giveaway, and thanks for the great review.


  12. I loved The Space Between Us and I'd love to read this one as well! Thanks for the giveaway!

    s.mickelson at gmail dot com

  13. I STILL have yet to read The Space Between Us. Maybe I'll get to it before this year's FoB, since that'll mark a year since we saw the author.

  14. What a wonderful review, Wendy!! It really makes me want to read it. I have The Space Between Us that has been in my TBR pile for a while. I am going to have to dig it out and put it closer to the top!!

  15. Wow, I'd love to read this! It sounds emotional, dramatic, and realistic.

  16. Wow, this sounds good. I really enjoy strong character studies. No need to enter me in the giveaway, my library has it on order.

  17. I'd love to win a copy of this book as it was one of my favorites in 2009. Unfortunately, I let someone read my copy and never got it back, so I would LOVE on for my collection.

    Thanks for the great review and giveaway Wendy.

    bibliophilebythesea AT gmail DOT com

  18. Wonderful review, Wendy! Please enter me in the drawing. I read her book The Space Between Us and loved it but I didn't even realize she had another book out. I will have to add Weight of Heaven and Bombay Time to my list.

  19. I'm reading this for review and can't wait to get to it!

  20. Lovely review, Wendy! Please enter me. I've read only one of Thrity Umrigar's books but I still can't part with it. I thought it was wonderful and would like to read more by her. I think my email is visible on my blog, but I'll just write it:

    bookfoolery at gmail dot com

    Psst, I love the story about the little boy in the booth in your latest post. I was one of those moms who always had to keep my son from climbing up and over a booth. Those were the days.

  21. Statically speaking, most marriages don't survive the death of a child so it's interesting that the author chose to tackle that. I'm so happy for you that you got to meet one of your favorite authors!

  22. I never liked Frank either, Wendy, but I think that not liking him made this book work even more for me. I love Thrity Umrigar's books so much, and this is one that I wish I hadn't passed on to someone else because I'd like to read it again. How exciting to meet this author!

  23. I'd love to be entered! I've heard so many good things about this author!

  24. I'd love to win a copy of this book. I'm intrigued about the child's death and how the parents cope with their grief. I've also heard great things about "The Space Between Us", and would like to give this author a try. I've never read anything by them before.

  25. This is an author I've been meaning to read. This book looks heartbreaking. I do think it's very cool that you got to meet the author. I love when I get to meet a favorite. Doesn't happen nearly enough :)

  26. Great review Wendy! I never really liked Frank either-at times he drove me nuts although I still felt for both of them as you did. What really threw me was the ending - I really hadn't expected it. I've got to try to put my thoughts down this weekend for my review next week. There's just so much in this book that it's not so easy to do that.

  27. Everytime I see this book I wonder what it's about but I haven't taken the time to read about it until now. This books sounds quite good, although sad and troubling. I expect coping with the death of one's child is one of the most difficult experiences in life, one which many couples don't usually come through together. I am very interested to see how the author handles this issue. Thrity Umrigar also sounds like an author I need to read.

    Thank you for hosting a great giveaway!

    Aimala127 AT gmail DOT com

  28. Great review! This sounds fascinating, and I just love reading about other cultures. Thanks for the giveaway.

    Diary of an Eccentric
    diaryofaneccentric at hotmail dot com

  29. It sounds like a book I would really enjoy!

  30. I have read some excellent reviews for this book, and I always enjoy stories based in another culture.
    Thanks for the giveaway.
    mtakala1 AT yahoo DOT com


    Thank you to everyone who commented and also to those who entered the giveaway. I hope those of you who are interested in this book will get the chance to read it or at least another book by the author.

    Now for the winner! I used to select a random winner. And the winner is:

    Amanda of A Bookshelf Monstrosity! Congratulations to Amanda and thank you to all who entered!

  32. This was my first introduction to Umrigar and thought it was very good as well. I look forward to the one on my TBR Shelf - I think it's The Space Between Us. It's good to know that that was your first and turned you into a follower. :)

  33. Joy - I am glad you enjoyed this one too! I do hope you like The Space Between Us. It's such a sad book, but oh so good!


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