cover image A People’s History of Heaven

A People’s History of Heaven

Mathangi Subramanian. Algonquin, $26.95 (304p) ISBN 978-1-61620-758-8

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. (Mar.)