Friday, February 26, 2010
The Weight Of Heaven by Thrity Umrigar
Desperate for a change, the Bentons agree to move to India, hoping that it will be a fresh start in a place with no memories of their son. Ellie thrives there, making new friends and falling in love with India and its people. Frank has a rougher time.
Frank's job provides problems along with the opportunities. The Indian workers are different from those he has managed in the past, creating conflict. There are bribes that are paid to local governments, a different scenario than he has encountered. Wages are low and working conditions are harder than in American factories. The biggest conflict concerns not only his workers but the entire area. The company has bought the rights to the trees that their top-selling drug is created from. The local population has used those trees for centuries, and have established harvests and markets. They are now forbidden to do so; their livlihood sold to a foreign company by their government. This creates constant tension and as things deteriorate, protests and riots.
A new relationship starts to help Frank. He takes an interest in the son of their cook and housekeeper. This child, Ramesh, is a bright child, engaging and outgoing. Frank and Ellie offer to pay his tuition to a local private school. Soon they are taking him on weekend trips, and he is a guest at dinners they give for their friends--dinners prepared and served by his parents, who are there as servants rather than guests. Frank becomes more and more involved with Ramesh. Both Ramesh's parents and Ellie start to feel uncomfortable with his focus; Elllie because she thinks he is trying to replace their son, and the parents because he is weaning their son's allegience away.
Things come to a head as Frank attempts to find a way to take Ramesh back to America when he and Ellie finish their tour in India. The book sweeps along to a shocking climax that the reader will not soon forget.
I can't recommend this book highly enough. The writing is lush and quiet, but provides a steady increase of suspense. The conflicts between industrial nations and those countries providing resources and labor are starkly outlined. How marriages survive tragedies and the way individuals rebuild lives is explored in a deft manner, providing insights without being heavy handed. This book is recommended for all readers. It is a stunning book that the reader will remember for quite some time.