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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Weight of Heaven by Thrity Umrigar, 2009, * * * *

Umrigar (The Space Between Us) continues her exploration of cultural divides in this beautifully written and incisive novel about an American couple's experience in India. Frank and Ellie Benton have just lost their seven-year-oldd son Benny, after a short illness, and are unable to cope with this horrific loss.  When Frank is offered an assignment running a factory in Birgaug, India, a coastal village near Bombay, the Bentons decide to leave Ann Arbor, Michigan and try to start life anew.  While Frank tackles the barriers faced as an educated, wealthy American in charge of a Third World work force, Ellie, a therapist, basks in her new life making friends and volunteeering her services at a nearby clinic --  determined not to let grief define her life.  Frank's world brightens when he befriends Ramesh, the charming, inquisitive son of the Bentons' housekeeper and cook. Ramesh soon becomes a surrogate for Benny in a relationshiop that simultaneously boosts Frank's spirits and breaks his heart.   Umrigar digs into the effects of grief on a relationship and the many facets of culture clash -- especially American captialism's impact on a poor country.  However, it is the tale of how Frank's interest in Ramesh veers into obsession and comes to a devastating end the provides the gripping story.  The Weight of Heaven is a hauntingly beautiful story about cultural divides and misunderstandings, about loss and working through grief.  It is one of those rare books that forces you to take stock of your life and about the things that matter most. The Weight of Heaven is a bold, beautifully rendered tale of cultures that clash and coalesce.

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