Thrity Thursday! AKA “The Space Between Us” Read-Along – Week 5 (Final)

The Space Between Us

Welcome to Thrity Thursday, also known as “The Space Between Us” read-along. We’ll be reading the book over the next few weeks. Thanks to Lisa for putting it together and thanks to these other bloggers for joining in on the fun!

Dar at Peeking Between The Pages
Staci at Life In The Thumb
Kathy at Mommy’s Reading
Booksync at Book In The City
Bailey at The Window Seat Reader
Mari at Bookworm With A View

Chapters 21-25 (Final)

My Synopsis:

My hope is that after this read-along, some of you will get a copy of this book and read it on your own. Since that is my wish, my synopsis isn’t a play-by-play account of what I’ve read, but just a high-level overview of what took place. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. With that said…

In this week’s reading, the father of Maya’s unborn baby is revealed. Bhima’s knowledge of this causes her to question everything around her and presents a whole new set of problems for the woman to endure. As Dinaz’s pregnancy progresses, Maya is left to bitterly mourn her own baby’s fate. As shocked as Bhima is by Maya’s behavior, she can relate to how difficult it will be for Maya once Dinaz has her baby.

In the end, which I will not give away… Umrigar brings things to a close in a satisfying, yet realistic way.

My Thoughts:

As much as I enjoyed reading this book, I found it to be a bit soap opera-ish. This happens, then that happens, then there is a shocking revelation…cue music. It’s very dramatic at times. Part of that I think is due to the fact that it’s set in another country. The use of language is different so the emphasis is different with some words, which to me, makes it sound more dramatic.

For whatever reason, the middle class tends to rhyme their words when speaking in this novel. I can’t remember word for word what was said, but “friends schlends” for example. As they tsk tsk over something…they lapse into rhyming their words. This seemed odd to me. Was this an attempt at being cute? To perhaps lend some lightness to the conversation? I’m not sure, but it happened at least three times (that I can recall) and it made me wonder if they really talk like that in India.

As for the story itself, I liked the way Umrigar balanced what is essentially two parallel stories and brought them together. Her descriptive passages leave nothing to the imagination. Every sight and sound and sometimes even smell is accounted for. The scenes at Chowpatty Beach are so vivid, albeit brief.  I was completely wrapped up in that world while reading the book.

Chowpatty Beach, Mumbai

Chowpatty Beach, Mumbai

As this is now my second Umrigar book, I have to say that she has a very distinct way of writing and an unfailing sense of who her characters are. I think I enjoyed The Space Between Us a bit more than The Weight of Heaven. It seemed a bit more authentic to me, even with the dramatic undertones. Both would make excellent book club picks.

Source: Purchased.

Previous Weeks:

Week 1 & Week 2
Week 3
Week 4

Thrity Thursdays! AKA “The Space Between Us” Read-Along – Week 4

The Space Between Us

Welcome to Thrity Thursday, also known as “The Space Between Us” read-along. We’ll be reading the book over the next few weeks. Thanks to Lisa for putting it together and thanks to these other bloggers for joining in on the fun!

Dar at Peeking Between The Pages
Staci at Life In The Thumb
Kathy at Mommy’s Reading
Booksync at Book In The City
Bailey at The Window Seat Reader
Mari at Bookworm With A View

Chapters 16-20

My Synopsis:

My hope is that after this read-along, some of you will get a copy of this book and read it on your own. Since that is my wish, my synopsis isn’t a play-by-play account of what I’ve read, but just a high-level overview of what took place. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. With that said…

In this week’s reading, we learn what happened to Bhima’s family. Particularly her husband Gopal, and her son Amit. From earlier chapters, it’s clear that Gopal and Bhima love each other, but after an accident at work, the family feels the strain of Gopal’s injury and the added pressure to make ends meet brings out the worst in Gopal.

Sera and Feroz’s influence is what saves Gopal’s life, but their influence is not able to prevent the gradual decline that further stresses Bhima and the family.

My Thoughts:

The decline of Bhima’s family is just heartbreaking. She tries so hard to provide a good life for her family, yet her struggle to do so is outweighed by Gopal’s inability to function as the family’s provider. As you can imagine, the ability for a man to provide for his family is a matter of pride and without it, the man is left feeling completely useless. Such is the case with Gopal. On the one hand, I was frustrated with Gopal, but on the other, I could totally relate to his predicament.

As the story progresses, I find myself more and more frustrated with Maya. She’s young and educated yet she comes across as being a bit of an airhead. Her questions to Bhima border on “irritating” and she doesn’t seem capable of reading between the lines. As the story comes to a close, my hope is that she comes full circle and learns something from the mistakes she’s made and appreciates how hard her grandmother works to keep them together.

Thrity Thursdays! AKA “The Space Between Us” Read-Along – Week 3

The Space Between Us

Welcome to Thrity Thursday, also known as “The Space Between Us” read-along. We’ll be reading the book over the next few weeks. Thanks to Lisa for putting it together and thanks to these other bloggers for joining in on the fun!

Dar at Peeking Between The Pages
Staci at Life In The Thumb
Kathy at Mommy’s Reading
Booksync at Book In The City
Bailey at The Window Seat Reader
Mari at Bookworm With A View

Chapters 12-15

My Synopsis:

My hope is that after this read-along, some of you will get a copy of this book and read it on your own. Since that is my wish, my synopsis isn’t a play-by-play account of what I’ve read, but just a high-level overview of what took place. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. With that said…

In this week’s reading, we learn a bit more about Maya’s parents and how Maya ended up living with her grandmother, Bhima. We also learn of Sera’s own difficulties and her struggle to understand her husband, Feroz and his wicked mother, Banu. Although Sera lives a more privileged life, her troubles are no less serious than that of Bhima’s.

My Thoughts:

One can argue that this novel is really two parallel stories that come together in a common way. I say this because Umrigar seems to pay equal time to both Bhima and Sera. I’ve read novels with this structure in the past, and they’ve always left me disappointed. I’m not feeling that here, though. Umrigar successfully weaves in and out of the lives of these women. Nothing feels forced. At the end of each chapter, I feel compelled to keep reading.

Whereas the first half of this book dealt with the present day, the second half seems to be focusing on the past and how things came to be. I tend to like it when an author manages to explain a character’s actions without it being force-fed to you in some manner.

So far the story is easy to follow and is filled with characters that I care about. I can’t wait for the next installment.

Thrity Thursdays! AKA “The Space Between Us” Read-Along – Weeks 1 & 2

The Space Between Us

Welcome to Thrity Thursday, also known as “The Space Between Us” read-along. We’ll be reading the book over the next few weeks. Thanks to Lisa for putting it together and thanks to these other bloggers for joining in on the fun!

Dar at Peeking Between The Pages
Staci at Life In The Thumb
Kathy at Mommy’s Reading
Booksync at Book In The City
Bailey at The Window Seat Reader
Mari at Bookworm With A View

Chapters 1-11

My Synopsis:

I am playing catch-up since I was supposed to post about the first six chapters last week, so I will keep this short.

Bhima and Maya live in the slums of Bombay. Bhima is Maya’s grandmother and makes her living working for Sera. Sera has money and lives with her daughter Dinaz and her husband, and they are expecting their first baby. Maya is also expecting her first baby, but it’s a baby produced out-of-wedlock, and the pregnancy promises nothing but shame for Maya and her grandmother.

The two families, although tied together by Bhima’s employment to Sera, have their own history. Both have shared disappointment and grief and both bear their own burdens. Sera’s money is what puts Maya through college, so it’s only normal for Sera to feel some resentment when Maya becomes pregnant. Bhima shares in that resentment and is grateful when Sera once again, comes to their aid, but there are hurt feelings as each struggle with what they’ve been given.

My Thoughts:

When I read The Weight of Heaven, I was charmed by Umrigar’s talent as a storyteller. I had no problem getting into the story and the same can be said with The Space Between Us. I worried about being able to catch-up with the others since I was so far behind in my reading, but over one, lovely day I opened the book and before I knew it, I was already eleven chapters in.

The difference in class is great, yet the two families respect one another and often find themselves baffled over their differences. Sera manages to be fascinated and repulsed at the same time while visiting Bhima in her slum hut. Bhima realizes that although Sera’s family has money, that there are secrets there as well. No family is perfect.

I am so taken with these characters, that reading about them, takes no effort at all. I look forward to the second half of the book and from what I’ve read, this would make a fabulous book club pick.

Review & Book Tour: The Weight of Heaven

The Weight of Heaven
By Thrity Umrigar
HarperCollins Publishers
April 2009
384pp

Here’s the blurb from the publisher:

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. Then an unexpected job half a world away in Girbaug, India, offers them an opportunity to start again. But Frank’s befriending of Ramesh—a bright, curious boy who quickly becomes the focus of his attentions—will lead the grieving man down an ever-darkening path with stark repercussions.

A devastating look at cultural clashes and divides, Thrity Umrigar’s The Weight of Heaven is a rare glimpse of a family and a country struggling under pressures beyond their control.

The Short of It:

An emotional story about love and loss and so much more. The Weight of Heaven demands your attention, shakes you up, then leaves you heavy with the weight of it.

The Rest of It:

This is a wonderful, meaty book. As you can imagine, the death of a child is a delicate subject. There’s something incredibly tragic about losing a child. Even when the child is gone, his memory lives on in everyday things… a stray toy found under the couch, the shoe that lost its mate some time ago, etc. As Ellie and Frank cope with their devastating loss, it’s obvious to Ellie that Frank is having a particularly hard time of it. When an opportunity comes up for Frank to transfer to Girbaug, India, he doesn’t think much of it. The thought of leaving seems almost more painful but Ellie encourages him to accept the offer. Perhaps change is what they need.

Frank’s company puts them up in corporate housing which includes the use of a servant couple, named Edna and Prakash. Edna and Prakash live in a smaller house on the same property, with their son Ramesh, a very precocious nine-year-old. During their time in India, Frank befriends Ramesh and tutors him in math. Frank cherishes his moments with Ramesh, but Ellie worries that Frank is trying to replace the son he lost.

Unfortunately, Ramesh’s father, Prakash also thinks the same thing. Prakash resents Frank’s attention towards his son. The extravagant gifts, the promises of a better education, basically, his help in general. Prakash, although a hard worker, resents having to work for a white man. This is obvious. However, Edna, Prakash’s wife thinks the exact opposite. She gushes over Frank’s generous offers. She sees Prakash as a failure and treats him as such. Cursing him and openly wishing that she’d married someone else. As much as these two fight, there is love but frustration gets the best of them.

In addition to Frank’s relationship with Ramesh, there is also Ellie’s desperate attempt to hold onto Frank. As the days pass, she feels that she is losing him. The only time that he seems happy is in the presence of Ramesh and this saddens Ellie. Instead of turning to her, he turns to Ramesh to ease his pain. However, Ellie loves Frank with all her heart and wants to see him happy, so she gives into his requests to be with Ramesh and often joins them in an attempt to see what Frank sees in this child. They decide to take Ramesh to Bombay, or Mumbai as it is now called for a weekend trip:

Bombay. Such a deceptive word, so soft-sounding, like sponge cake in the mouth. Even the new name for the city, Mumbai, carries that round softness, so that a visitor is unprepared for the reality of this giant, bewildering city, which is an assault, a punch in the face.

During this visit, even Ramesh is affected by the level of poverty. As they arrive at their 4-star hotel, Ramesh is overwhelmed by its opulence. Stunned. Speechless. Ellie regrets for a moment that they didn’t consider his reaction to such an extravagant hotel. However, this is how it is throughout the story, Frank wants to give Ramesh what he cannot afford on his own, but in doing so, inadvertently asserts his money and power over the poorer people around him.

Even at work, Frank is constantly at battle with the laborers. Trying to do what’s right, but not fully understanding the impact of his company’s actions. The constant class struggle, his overwhelming love of Ramesh, and the fragile love that he has for Ellie and hers for him. This story triggers a whirlwind of feelings, smells and sounds. At first I was devastated by their loss. Umrigar’s writing is so rich and beautiful that I shed a tear once or twice while reading about Benny and how he died and the pain that Ellie and Frank felt afterward.

Other times I was very angry. I was angry that Frank could not see what he was doing to Prakash. Turning a man’s son away from his father is a wretched thing to do, regardless of how abrasive Prakash was at times. I was also angry at how oblivious he was to the working conditions of his laborers. This also filtered down to Ellie a bit, although  my reaction to her was not nearly as severe. Ellie loves India and its people,  but she too, chooses to bully them at times when she sees the need to do so. One moment that comes to mind is when she is trying to convince Prakash to allow Ramesh to take a trip with them. She threatens him, and he is forced to agree although it tears him apart to do so.

As you can see, this novel evokes all sorts of emotion. I cried, I laughed I got angry. Through it all, I didn’t want it to end. I lingered on each page to bask in its beauty. Although these characters are far from perfect, they are easy to relate to. Every time I picked the book up I was completely absorbed by the story.

The Weight of Heaven is the perfect book club book. There’s just so much to discuss. This is my first experience with Umrigar’s work. Now I must go read her other books as this one was just wonderful. If you like a book to sweep you up and take you to another place, a book that really forces you to think about the world around you, then you will love this book.

To visit Thrity Umrigar’s website, click here.

Book Club Girl had to reschedule her Blog Talk Show with Ms. Umrigar but check the website regularly for updates.

To view Ms. Umrigar’s other TLC tour stops, click here.

Source: A big ‘thank you’ to TLC Book Tours for asking me to be a part of this tour and for providing me with a review copy of the book.

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