A Lit Hub Most Anticipated Book of 2019
A politically driven graffiti artist. A transgender Christian convert. A blind girl who loves to dance. A queer daughter of a hijabi union leader. These are some of the young women who live in a Bangalore slum known as Heaven, young women whom readers will come to love in the moving, atmospheric, and deeply inspiring debut, A People's History of Heaven.
Welcome to Heaven, a thirty-year-old slum hidden between brand-new high-rise apartment buildings and technology incubators in contemporary Bangalore, one of India's fastest-growing cities. In Heaven, you will come to know a community of people living hand-to-mouth and constantly struggling against the city government who wants to bulldoze their homes and build yet more glass high-rises. These families, men and women, young and old, gladly support one another, sharing whatever they can.
A People's History of Heaven centers on five best friends, girls who go to school together, a diverse group who love and accept one another unconditionally, pulling one another through crises and providing emotional, physical, and financial support. Together they wage war on the bulldozers that would bury their homes, and, ultimately, on the city that does not care what happens to them.
This is a story about geography, history, and strength, about love and friendship, about fighting for the people and places we love--even if no one else knows they exist. Elegant, poetic, bursting with color, Mathangi Subramanian's novel is a moving and celebratory story of girls on the cusp of adulthood who find joy just in the basic act of living.
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“She learns to ask. To want. To hope. Learns the feeling of responding to a hunger that lives, not in her belly, but somewhere else in her body.”
A People's History of Heaven offers a portrayal of an impoverished urban community in India which is both honest about the hardships this community faces and is not written like tragedy-porn. Instead, Subramanian's focus is the ways in which the members of the community fiercely show up for one another across difference to not only survive, but to carve out joy in their ironically (or perhaps aptly) named neighborhood called "Heaven." The people of Heaven are tenacious, loyal, resourceful, and creative. They reject the pitying gaze of international "aid" and engage in resistance in the tradition of grassroots Indian activists. A People's History of Heaven is not a replacement for deeper conversations around gender-violence, colorism, government corruption, and rising Hindu nationalism in India, but it is an important acknowledgement of the inherent value and agency of the people that fall "at the bottom" of these structures.
Read for: lyrical prose, uplifting representations of gender and sexual diversity with family support, post-colonial analysis, youth friendly
Content warnings: One scene of verbal harassment towards a transgender youth. State violence and poverty (not graphic).
- 304 pages
- Algonquin Books (3/19/19)
- 5.5 x 0 x 8.3 inches