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Book Review - The Weight Of Heaven By Thrifty Umrigar

Tara Menon

As I’m a fan of Thrity Umrigar, it isn’t surprising that The Weight of Heaven, her most ambitious novel, was among my favorite books of 2009.  However, I didn’t like the main characters, a sure turn off in another writer’s hands.  Yet, Umrigar emotionally engaged me with the story of an American couple, Frank and Ellie, who come to India to cope with the loss of their seven-year-old.  She pushes grief to its full potential to break hearts, minds, couples. 

Umrigar begins her first chapter with one of the many beautifully rendered passages strewn throughout the pages.  “…The nighttime air was heavy with moisture, but it held its burden in check, like a widow blinking back her tears…”  Ellie hopes to benefit from the spiritual wealth of India.  If only she, a therapist, had heeded her own advice not to make any important decisions for a year after a life-altering event.  Frank works for an American company that denies the villagers access to their forest.  He seeks to mitigate his grief for his child by desperately trying to include the cook’s son in his life, thereby intertwining his and Ellie’s fate with that of the boy’s unfortunate parents. 

Umrigar’s treats for the reader are not confections of sweetness, but rather an assortment of cultural conflicts that build up the suspense.  She slips effortlessly into the minds of her American as well as her Indian characters, exposing raw emotion and dark thoughts to give us chilling portraits.  One can easily imagine meeting a bereaved father like Frank, but one needs a terrific storyteller like Umrigar to make us picture his descent into obsession and depravity.  The Weight of Heaven  warns us about the repercussions of selfishness on a personal and global scale.


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