Summary and book reviews of The Weight of Heaven by Thrity Umrigar

The Weight of Heaven

A Novel

By Thrity Umrigar

The Weight of Heaven
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  • Hardcover: Apr 2009,
    384 pages.
    Paperback: Feb 2010,
    400 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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About this Book

Book Summary

When Frank and Ellie Benton lose their only child, seven-year-old Benny, to a sudden illness, the perfect life they had built is shattered. Filled with wrenching memories, their Ann Arbor home becomes unbearable, and their marriage founders. But an unexpected job half a world away offers them an opportunity to start again. Life in Girbaug, India, holds promise—and peril—when Frank befriends Ramesh, a bright, curious boy who quickly becomes the focus of the grieving man's attentions. Haunted by memories of his dead son, Frank is consumed with making his family right—a quest that will lead him down an ever-darkening path with stark repercussions.

Filled with satisfyingly real characters and glowing with local color, The Weight of Heaven is a rare glimpse of a family and a country struggling under pressures beyond their control. In a devastating look at cultural clashes and divides, Umrigar illuminates how slowly we recover from unforgettable loss, how easily good intentions can turn evil, and how far a person will go to build a new world for those he loves.

Chapter One

They had finished dinner a half hour ago, and now they sat on the porch waiting for the rains to come. The nighttime air was heavy with moisture, but it held its burden in check, like a widow blinking back her tears. While they waited, the storm entertained them with its flash and dazzle - the drumbeat of the thunder, the silver slashes of lightning against the black skin of the sky. With each explosion of lightning they saw the scene before them - the tall shadows on their front lawn cast by the coconut trees, the still sand beyond the lawn, and even beyond that, the restless, furious sea, straining against the shore.

He had always loved thunderstorms, even as a young boy in Grand Rapids. While his older brother, Scott, cowered and flinched and pulled the bedcovers over his ears, Frank would stand before the window of their shared bedroom, feeling brave and powerful. Talking back to the storm. He would deliberately turn his back on Scott, embarrassed and ...

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Introduction

When Frank and Ellie Benton lose their only child, seven-year-old Benny, to a sudden illness, the perfect life they'd built is shattered. Filled with wrenching memories, their Ann Arbor home becomes unbearable and their marriage founders. But an unexpected job half a world away offers them an opportunity to start again. Life in Girbaug, India, holds promise—and peril—when Frank befriends Ramesh, a bright, curious boy who quickly becomes the focus of the grieving man's attentions. Haunted by memories of his dead son, Frank is consumed with making his family right—a quest that will lead him down an ever-darkening path with stark repercussions.


Filled with satisfying real characters and glowing with ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

The book does lose a bit of steam in the middle, when Umrigar inserts two oddly placed flashbacks ... In addition, the book contains overt political statements that for the most part seem out of place and one-sided ... Those are minor quibbles, however. Overall The Weight of Heaven is very well written and exceptionally engaging. While the topics addressed are heavy, the book is actually a very fast read; readers will be hooked from the first page. Those who are not afraid to tackle a book that deals with such heartbreaking circumstances will find it a rewarding novel rich with complexities.   (Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

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Media Reviews
Elle Magazine - Corrie Pikul

Umrigar loads her characters (especially Frank) with so much psychological baggage that it can be hard to emotionally connect with them. But .... we're pulled along by the intensity of this sweepingly cinematic story.

Cleveland Plain Dealer - Ellen Emry Heltzel

Although her writing occasionally sags into cliche and the commonplace, her observations are dispassionate and astute enough to deliver at both levels. This is a morality tale tuned to our times.

Christian Science Monitor - Yvonne Zipp

There are a few generic opening pages that rely too much on worn out expressions of grief ... But then Umrigar really gets going, and the clich├ęs get brushed off like barnacles on a fast-moving ship. Twisty, brimming with dark humor and keen moral insight, The Weight of Heaven packs a wallop on both a literary and emotional level.

More Magazine

Umrigar beautifully illuminates how human relationships are complicated by cultural, geographical, and class divides.

Kirkus Reviews

Not as unified as Umrigar's previous novels...but an unflinching portrait of parental bereavement.

Library Journal

Umrigar finely plumbs the depths of the human heart, from the heights of joy and passion to the very deepest despair.

Publishers Weekly

Umrigar establishes herself as a singularly gifted storyteller.

Booklist

Starred Review. The Weight of Heaven is a bold, beautifully rendered tale of cultures that clash and coalesce.

Reader Reviews
Kathryn

Great Book Club Selection
Fans of Umrigar will not be disappointed. The Weight of Heaven is a beautifully written story about an American couple suffering the loss of their only child, Hoping to find some some comfort and closure, Frank and Ellie move to India where he runs ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

India
According to the U.S. Department of State, India's population is estimated at more than 1.2 billion and is growing at 1.6% a year. It has the world's 12th largest economy - and the third largest in Asia behind Japan and China - with total GDP in 2008 of around $1.2 trillion (which, to put it in context, is less than the USA's budget deficit in 2009).

Although India occupies only 2.4% of the world's land area, it supports over 15% of the world's population. Only China has a larger population. India's median age is 25, one of the youngest among large economies. About 70% live in more than 550,000 villages, and the remainder in more than 200 towns and cities.

Services, industry and agriculture account for 55%, 27% ...

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