MLA Platinum Award Press Release

BookBrowse Reviews The Weight of Heaven by Thrity Umrigar

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Weight of Heaven

A Novel

by Thrity Umrigar

The Weight of Heaven by Thrity Umrigar X
The Weight of Heaven by Thrity Umrigar
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Apr 2009, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2010, 400 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
Buy This Book

About this Book

Reviews

BookBrowse:


Haunted by memories of their dead son, Frank and Ellie try to make a new life in India

Anyone who has read one of Thrity Umrigar's previous works will know what he or she is getting into when picking up a copy of The Weight of Heaven. Umrigar is superbly adept at putting her readers in a position to observe heartrending circumstances. She is a keen observer of the human condition, and is one of the rare authors who can realistically convey every bit of what she sees to her readers. They are immersed in her characters' lives from the first page, and don't emerge until the very end of the novel. The level of tension and pain are nearly constant throughout; this is not a "feel-good" book.

Seven-year-old Benny's death is the starting place for this novel, the point from which all the pain and blame originate. While that event is tragic, the novel's true focus is how Benny's parents, Frank and Ellie, move beyond it – or fail to – and the way they interact with each other throughout their attempt at recovery.

[Frank] turned toward Ellie and waited for the next flash of lightning to illuminate her face. They had exchanged a few aimless words since moving to the porch, but for the most part they had sat in an easy silence for which Frank was grateful. It was a contrast to most of their interactions these days, which were laced with bitterness and unspoken accusations. He knew he was losing Ellie, that she was slipping out of his hands like the sand that lay just beyond the front yard, but he seemed unable to prevent the slow erosion. What she wanted from him – forgiveness – he could not grant her. What he wanted from her – his son back – she couldn't give.

The Weight of Heaven is liberally laced with other heavy themes as well. The author deftly weaves her narrative with issues such as class and culture, faith in the face of tragedy, and morality. Frank's paternalistic relationship with his housekeepers' son can be read as an allegory for the United States's relationship to most of the rest of the world (developing countries in particular). Umrigar also addresses how Western cultures deal with others' tragedy. In one moving passage, Ellie asks an American friend if coping with Benny's death will ever get any easier:

I'll tell you something right now, Ellie, that nobody else is gonna tell you – the pain will never go away. It's always there, even years and years later. And there's so much pressure to bury it. It's just the way our culture is – even grief comes with an expiration date, you know? You're supposed to nod and smile because raw emotion embarrasses other people.

The book does lose a bit of steam in the middle, when Umrigar inserts two oddly placed flashbacks. They're distracting, breaking up the novel's flow and adding little value to the plot. In addition, the book contains overt political statements that for the most part seem out of place and one-sided; it feels more like a lecture aimed at the reader than a discussion between characters.

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.

About the Author
Thrity UmrigarA journalist for seventeen years, Thrity Umrigar has written for the Washington Post, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and other national newspapers, and contributes regularly to the Boston Globe's book pages. She teaches creative writing and literature at Case Western Reserve University. She is the author of Bombay Time (2001), The Space Between Us (2006), If Today Be Sweet (2007) and the memoir First Darling of the Morning: Selected Memories of an Indian Childhood (2008). She was a winner of the Nieman Fellowship to Harvard University, has a Ph.D. in English and lives in Cleveland, Ohio.

Reviewed by Kim Kovacs

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in May 2009, and has been updated for the April 2010 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  India

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten.

Join Now!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket
    Cantoras
    by Carolina De Robertis
    Cantoras by Carolina De Robertis follows five characters who share a house, troubles, joys and parts...
  • Book Jacket: Daughters Of Smoke & Fire
    Daughters Of Smoke & Fire
    by Ava Homa
    Ava Homa's debut novel begins with an epigraph by Sherko Bekas, a Kurdish poet, the last lines of ...
  • Book Jacket: The Book of V.
    The Book of V.
    by Anna Solomon
    In ancient Persia, Esther, a young Jewish woman, parades herself in front of the king in a desperate...
  • Book Jacket: How to Be an Antiracist
    How to Be an Antiracist
    by Ibram X. Kendi
    Ibram X. Kendi opens How to Be an Antiracist with a personal story he finds shameful in retrospect, ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Stone Girl
    by Dirk Wittenborn

    A riveting tale of deception, vengeance, and power set against the haunting beauty of the Adirondacks.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    The Voyage of the Morning Light
    by Marina Endicott

    A sweeping novel set aboard a merchant ship sailing through the South Pacific in 1912.
    Reader Reviews

Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
The Beekeeper of Aleppo
by Christy Lefteri

This moving, intimate, and beautifully written novel puts human faces on the Syrian war.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Win this book!
Win Of Bears and Ballots

An Alaskan Adventure in Small-Town Politics

A charming account of holding local office with an entertaining, quirky cast of characters.

Enter

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

A S Louder T W

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.