A People’s History of Heaven by Mathangi Subramanian highlights the different lives of young girls living in a slum in India. Now available in paperback, this novel shows how hope and strength can persevere and how a community can come together in times of strife.
In the tight-knit community known as Heaven, a ramshackle slum hidden between luxury high-rises in Bangalore, India, five girls on the cusp of womanhood forge an unbreakable bond. Muslim, Christian, and Hindu; queer and straight; they are full of life, and they love and accept one another unconditionally. Whatever they have, they share. Marginalized women, they are determined to transcend their surroundings. 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.
This story is just beautifully written. It’s unlike any other novel I’ve read and is one that everyone should read. I don’t think I’ve ever read a story set in India, so it was super interesting to learn about the culture through the lives of the characters. The way each of the characters’ stories intertwine and the way the chapters intermix past and present shows how even if history repeats itself, spirit and hope can be replicated in a new generation as well.
I also really liked the use of "heaven" as a double meaning. The phrasing of certain lines like “The city is loud, but Heaven is louder” was very clever and created a metaphoric dichotomy and juxtaposition showing what the slum means to these women and how it has become a sanctuary of sorts for them.
The only thing that bothered me about this novel was the style of narration. We never really find out who the narrator is. Are they one of the young girls? Are they an omniscient presence? The way the narrator uses personal pronouns like "we" allows the reader to think that they are present for all of the events, but there are certain scenes and parts of the story that the narrator would have no way of knowing unless they were just a third person narrator. It just proved a bit more confusing to follow certain parts of the text.
Overall, this is a story that everyone can appreciate and should read at some point in their lives. The resilience of women is so moving to see and Subramanian does a phenomenal job of showcasing it in her story. Feminists and those who wish to view the world through different eyes will fall in love with this eloquent and beautiful novel.
*I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion
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