If Today Be Sweet by Thrity Umrigar

Cross-posted at BookReviews at Bookrack

I started this book with high expectations after reading and loving  ‘The Weight of Heaven’ by the same author.

The book is set in America, where Tehmina Sethna, still raw after losing her husband, Rustom, has come for a vacation at her son Sorab and American daughter-in-law, Suzanne’s house. Sorab has asked her to relocate to America and live with them. Tehmina is in a qaundry. She is unsure of the path that she ought to take. Bombay has been her home since her wedding and she is not sure if she is willing to give it up and move to a new place. She also has some tussles with Sorab’s son Cookie(Cavas) who claims that he is an ‘all American boy’, when she reminds him that he is ‘half-Indian’.  Sorab and his wife, while they want her to live with them , have their own sources of worries. At a time when she needs to make one of her life’s important decision, on her own, her husband’s absence hits home, for her. She was so used to his being around, taking care of things, helping every body mingle.  Rustom was as comfortable in America as he was in Bombay. She felt she needed him to make everything bearable, and not having him around was taking a toll on her.

Finally a series of events help her make up her mind.

This book, for me, was quite a disappointment. I felt that the story had a lot of potential, but in a lot of ways, failed to deliver. A lot of clichéd views, how India was great and everything in America is the pits, came across, which I felt was rather judgemental. It almost felt as if Tehmina was the only conscientious person in the place they lived and almost every body else was obsessed with material comforts than with emotions or feelings..  Tehmina reminisces of how people in India are ‘fearless’, in crossing roads, not wearing seat belts while the life in America was  sterile and antiseptic. While it could be Tehmina’s views, I felt it reduced the impact of the story for me.  There were a lot of stereotyped characters which were either too good to be true or totally black.

I felt ‘The Weight of Heaven’ had much better, much more balanced characters.  I did like the way the book explored the emotions that Tehmina, Sorab and Suzanne felt in the various situations in the book. Sorab’s frustrations, Suzanne’s understanding and frustrations with her mother-in-law. Tehmina’s reaction to things, the way she felt that she was unable to mourn her husband properly, her longing for the things that she considers familiar and homely. It was still an interesting read, but I would not give it more than a 2 out of five.

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The Weight of Heaven by Thrity Umrigar

Cross-posted at BookReviews at Bookrack

I first came across Thrity Umrigar’s name somewhere in the blogworld. Swaram recommended the books too, so when I found The Weight of Heaven in the library, my happiness knew no bounds.

The story is set in Girbaug, a small town in India. Frank and Ellie Benton, after having lost their seven-year old son, to a sudden infection, have moved to India, in an effort to put the past behind them. Frank and Ellie, college sweethearts who had been extremely close, had been having a tough time keeping their marriage together after Benny’s death. In India, Ellie, a therapist,  manages to find a purpose in life, make new friends and starts to feel at home. For, Frank, however, it is a different India. It is an India, full of corruption and complications. An India where he feels like an outsider.

The company Frank works for, Herbal Solutions, seems to have antagonized the local people, when they bought the land with trees having medicinal properties. The local people depended on it for several decades and now, do not understand how the company could have bought the trees that were theirs. In addition to this, there are trade union issues which Frank finds difficult to handle.

The only bright side to Frank’s life in Girbaug, is their housekeeper’s son – Ramesh. Frank is captivated by the little boy’s smartness and charm. He spends hours teaching him, going on picnics together, playing basketball with him, buying extravagant gifts. So much so that his parents,his father, in particular starts resenting Frank’s involvement in his son’s life.

Things come to a head when certain complications force Frank’s boss to call him back to America. Frank then takes a decision, which changes the course of a lot of people’s lives.

The book is beautifully written. The pain that Frank and Ellie are going through comes across very clearly. The author also gives a very vivid picture of life in a small town in India. The difference between Ellie’s India and Frank’s India are beautifully brought out. The struggles of an American couple in India is well etched out, especially given the fact that in a lot of situations, they are made to be apologetic for their government’s actions in different parts of the world.

I would give it a five on five rating. It was a brilliant read. I could not keep the book down without completing it.