Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Weight of Heaven

The Weight of Heaven, by Thrity Umrigar.

He stroked her hair. "El, listen to me. I know I'm not much of a bargain, right now. Heck, I don't even know how long it will take me to get a job after I graduate. But I promise you this - I will always try to make you happy. And you will always be able to depend on me. I will never abandon you."

And he had been true to his word. They were married a year later, and Ellie could always rely on him. Always, until that fateful night of Benny's death, when she needed him more than ever before, and he abandoned her to tend to his own ruined heart.


This is the second book I've read by Thrity Umrigar, and it was just as good as the first. Most, if not all, of her books are about India, but in this case, The Weight of Heaven is about an American couple who relocates there after their 7-year-old son's untimely death. They stand out like a sore thumb, but the wife, Ellie, soon makes friends there, and the husband, Frank, becomes a mentor to Ramesh, a local boy. Ramesh is the son of Edna and Prakash, who live in the shack behind their house and cook and clean for them, and Frank sees potential in him, maybe even enough that he could go and study in the U.S. one day.

Frank works for a company called HerbalSolutions, and the villagers are angry that the company has "bought" a grove of trees that the villagers always depended on; the trees have a special extract that can help lower diabetes, and HerbalSolutions is making the most of them to help sell health pills in the U.S. Near the beginning of the book, one of the Indian employees of the company dies in jail, and Frank must deal with the aftermath of this.

The reason Ellie and Frank escaped to India when Frank was offered the relocation, too, was because their son, Benny, died of a rash, and they couldn't stand to stay in Ann Arbor anymore. They rented their house and took off, and haven't been back to the U.S. since, though originally they planned to visit for 10 days during Christmas.

Like her previous (new) book, The World We Found, Umrigar writes with clear intent, and really brings her characters to life. I was in shock at the twist ending of the book (heads up: it's very sad), and I'm not sure if I really agreed with it, but it definitely made the novel interesting. It was also very eye-opening about the conditions and poverty in India, versus all that we have here in the U.S., and how lavish Frank and Ellie, as middle-class Americans, were able to live there.

4 stars out of 5.

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