The Weight of Heaven by Thrity Umrigar
Ellie and Frank have always had something like a fairy tale marriage. They are deeply in love with each other, and with their little boy, Benny. Then, one night when Frank is away on business in Thailand, Benny gets sick. At first it seems like it isn’t too much of anything, just a low fever that actually abates, so Ellie grabs a couple hours of sleep. Suddenly she wakes up to a terrible rash blooming over Benny’s lovely face. When Frank and Ellie lose Benny, the pretty much lose themselves too, they are no longer sure how to be a family without him, especially in their old town and their old house. Thus, when Frank is offered the opportunity to run his company’s factory in India, Ellie jumps at the chance for them to start over in a new place, but life in India is not the Bollywood movie she thinks it will be.
Oh my gosh, I just want to climb into this book and be carried along by the way that Umrigar makes language flow! Here’s a completely randomly chosen passage, just to show you how lovely her writing is:
The lightning flashed, and he saw her white, slender body for an instant before the darkness carried her away again. She was sitting erect and still, her back pressed against the wooden boards of the swing. But what made Frank’s heart lurch was the look on her face. She sat with her eyes closed, a beatific expression on her face, looking for all the world like one of the Buddha statues they had seen on a recent trip to the Ajanta caves. She seemed to feel none of the agitation, the exciting turmoil, that was coursing through his body. Ellie seemed far away, as distant as the moon he could not see. Slipping away from his hands.
Ah, gorgeous! Umrigar is an incredibly skilled writer, she can take the narration from one character’s head to another from chapter to chapter, maintaining a separate voice for each of them. She even takes one chapter into second person and does it well, which is not easy.
Sometimes those who write well neglect their plot. Not so with Umrigar! Frank and Ellie’s story of loss and coping with the pain in their own lives and the difficulties of moving to a country so unlike their own was captivating. The novel was beautifully structured as well, beginning and ending in their present, with entire flashback sections devoted to their meeting and Benny’s death, both of which added even more to the already well-drawn characters.
Loved it. Want to read her entire backlist.
Thrity Umrigar will be on Blog Talk Radio with Book Club Girl on February 23, 2010 at 7:00 pm Eastern.
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I read this book as part of a TLC Book Tour. Check out some of the other tour hosts for more reviews. Links go to the host’s site, not to their specific review.
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