"The language [takes] on a musicality that is in sharp contrast to the bleak setting . . . refreshing . . . a strong debut."
—New York Times Book Review
“Subramanian writes with empathy and exuberance, offering a much-needed glimpse into a world that too many of us don't even know exists. This is a book to give your little sister, your mother, your best friend, yourself, so together you can celebrate the strength of women and girls, the tenacity it takes to survive in a world that would rather have you disappear.”—Nylon
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.
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 these women’s fierceness and determination not just to survive, but to triumph.
In Subramanian's strong debut, five teenage girls come of age in a Bangalore slum and work alongside their mothers to thwart city officials' efforts to destroy their homes. Initially narrated by an unspecified member of the group of friends, the novel begins in first person plural and moves into third person to tell the stories of Rukshana, Joy, Deepa, Banu, and Padma five girls who have been friends since childhood in fictional Swargahalli, Bangalore. In a culture that prizes male heirs, the girls have little opportunity and face abuse, blindness, poverty, and questions about gender and sexual identity; these issues are compounded as the girls grow up without the guarantee of an education. Making matters worse, the government has ramped up efforts to tear down Heaven, the girls' neighborhood, in order to build a shopping complex. As the project moves forward, the girls take on adult responsibilities and must learn hard truths as they help their mothers stop the building plans. Jumping around in time, the book looks in at pivotal moments in their lives, including their infancy, when their mothers banded together to keep the children healthy, and their adolescence, with dances, temporary teachers, and the rapid evolution of "a bunch of blue tarps strung up into haphazard tents" into an urbanized commercial area. Subramanian's evocative novel weaves together a diverse, dynamic group of girls to create a vibrant tapestry of a community on the brink.