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A People’s History of Heaven — by Mathangi Subramanian

Publisher: Algonquin Books
Pages: 290
Price: Rs. 599 INR(Hardcover), Rs. 425 INR(Kindle Edition)
ISBN: 978–1616207588
Buy here: https://amzn.to/38dX8XG

Heaven is a thirty-year-old slum hidden between brand-new, high-rise apartment buildings and technology incubators in contemporary Bangalore. In this tight-knit community, five girls on the cusp of womanhood-a politically driven graffiti artist; a transgender Christian convert; a blind girl who loves to dance; and the queer daughter of a hijabi union leader-forge an unbreakable bond.

When the local government threatens to demolish their tin shacks in order to build a shopping mall, the girls and their mothers refuse to be erased. Together they wage war on the bulldozers sent to bury their homes, and, ultimately, on the city that wishes that families like them would remain hidden forever.

Elegant, poetic, and vibrant, A People’s History of Heaven takes a clear-eyed look at adversity and geography and dazzles in its depiction of love and female friendship.

About the author:

Mathangi Subramanian, an award-winning writer, author, and educator, is a native of Minnesota and now lives with her husband and daughter in New Delhi, India. Before becoming a published author, she worked at Sesame Workshop, where she contributed to productions of localized versions of Sesame Street for markets in Asia and Africa. In India she was a founding member of the UNESCO Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace. She is the author of three books for young readers; this is her first adult novel.

My take on the book:

Swargahalli, which loosely translates to Heaven, is a slum in the heart of Bangalore city, beside the erstwhile airport. Already surrounded by rich apartments and a posh neighborhood, Heaven is being rummaged by the municipal authorities to make way for a shopping mall, as is the norm everywhere in major cities in current times. As the bulldozers arrive, ready to crush the dreams and future of its residents, the five teenage girls, around whom this story centers, reminisce their time spent in Heaven. 

Deepa who had to pull out of school due to her visual impairment but is enthusiastic about dance and still joins her girl pals during their annual day dance competitions, Banu the born artist and aspiring-architect who can give a smart makeover to any place with disposed scarp, Padma the once outsider who had to grow much earlier than she would have intended to, Joy the transgender whom the girls find more affable and sensible than the other boys in their locality and school, Rukshana who is trying to come to terms with her sexuality. 

These five girls and predominantly their mothers, grandmothers, sisters, their school principal, their teacher — the story is majorly about the women of Heaven. How they stand united through all of life’s trials and tribulations, against the forces ready to crash their world Heaven form the rest of the story.

At the outset, the reader can be misled that this is a sad story of a slum and its inhabitants. The story is anything but a sorrow-story as these girls are gritty, fierce, full-of-life and not one to live in self-pity; they don’t look at life as an everyday struggle for survival. Added to their attitude is the author’s lyrical style of writing, filled with catchy metaphors which draws the reader into the story from the first page. The author does a fantastic job in establishing these girls’ traits through the eyes of the other residents, going back and forth in narration, focusing on the diverse backgrounds of each of them. 

The simple joys that young girls search for in life irrespective of their financial status is well brought out by the author. The realistic writing style makes sure everyday minute details are captured with precision, like women known as someone’s wife or mother rather than by their own names. The story is more about these people and their approach towards life narrated like short stories stitched together, which can be disappointing for the section of readers who look for a normal storyline and narration style. Also, the story is narrated by each of these girls in turns which can take the reader sometime to get accustomed to. 

Read this story for the beautiful journey of these young girls who struggle in their own way for society acceptance without bowing to its pressures.

My rating: