The acclaimed author of the bestselling novels The Space Between Us; If Today Be Sweet; and the powerful and poignant memoir First Darling of May; Thrity Umrigar has written yet another powerful new novel, The Weight of Heaven’. The novel has generated profuse praise from both literary critics and readers alike.
To quote some of the laudatory reviews:-“Umrigar is a perceptive and often piercing writer” New York Times Review.
“The landscape and culture…(are) evocatively depicted…And such drama!...We’re pulled along by the intensity of this sweeping cinematic story.”-Elle.” Powerful…. Twisty, brimming with dark humor and keen moral insight, the Weight of Heaven packs a wallop on both literary and emotional level…Umrigar, a journalist for the Boston Globe, is a descriptive master.” Christian Science Monitor.
An educated and liberal American couple Frank and Ellie,living in Michigan lose their only son, seven year old Benny, to a sudden illness. Frank blames Ellie for Benny’s death. Both are devastated by Benny’s death and find their marriage crumbling. Thinking that a move away from home would help re-unite and heal them, Frank agrees to manage a factory, Herbal Solutions in a seaside village Girbaug in India. The Company he works for has leased thousands of acres of forest land with trees with medicinal properties. The factory processes the leaves for diabetic medicine. The villagers resent this intrusion because these trees are lifeblood to them-they brew, chew and even smoke the leaves and chop the trees for firewood.
Frank feels like an outsider here. He has to contend with class and cultural divide and feels confused and cynical. He finds his employees obsequious, fawning, lazy, incompetent and lacking in initiative. The death of a trade union activist in prison and suicide of a villager whose livelihood depended on the trees now owned by the company exacerbates Frank’s problems. He still misses Benny, till a nine year old Ramesh, son of his cook and maid, Prakash and his Christian wife Edna, enters into his life.Ramesh is funny, curious, smart and full of charm, Frank pays his school fees; helps him with his studies; plays basket ball with him; and takes him to the beach.
Unlike Frank, Ellie adapts easily to India and its culture.A therapist, she volunteers at her friend Nandita’s Niral Health Clinic and school, and is well liked and respected by the village folk. While Frank tries to spend more time with Ramesh, Prakash and Edna feel sidelined. Prakash feels helpless, as he is illiterate, poor and alcoholic. Edna is a conflicted woman, “caught between the desires of her own heart, and an overpowering ,almost maternal need to mother her husband and protect him from his own demons.” She also wants the best for Ramesh.
Frank and Ellie take Ramesh to Bombay. Ramesh is awe- struck by the opulence of the Taj Hotel. Ramesh also gets a taste of Christmas celebrations in Frank’s home, where Frank gives him a new computer. Prakash resents all this affection shown to his son and in a fit of rage snips the wires of the computer and disables it. Later, to pacify Ramesh, he decides to take him to Goa to meet his grandparents. While they are away, Frank who is obsessed with Ramesh, panics and fearing that he might lose Ramesh for ever, hatches a plot to take Ramesh to America. But events take unexpected turns at the end.
The novel has rich prose and a fast-paced plot where the author delves deeply into the inner struggles of her finely etched characters as well as the impact of globalization on a small village community in India. In this riveting novel, she illuminates the human heart in all its longing and imperfection and also brilliantly captures the texture of India.
India- born Thrity Umrigar is a prolific journalist for over 17 years and associate professor of English at Case Western Reserve University .She has a Ph.D. in English and lives in Cleveland.
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