A People’s History of Heaven is a novel about friendship, strength, and a fight for home as a group of young women fight to defend the slum they live in. Heaven is a Bangalore slum scheduled for destruction, but for five girls on the cusp of adulthood, it is the place they have been and become themselves. Banu knows how to build and create beautiful things but isn’t good at school, Padma wants to keep studying though first she needs to keep her mother in a job, Rukshana has carved out her version of womanhood and fell in a love with a girl in a tree, Joy isn’t sure what the future holds for a transgender Christian convert, and Deepa dances better than the rest of them but is treated differently due to her blindness. Despite their various circumstances, families, and religions, the five are a tight knit group, and they’re not going to let their home go without a fight.
The novel moves between their lives, past and present, using the first person plural to give a sense of their connectedness, an entity that celebrates one another and fights together. As much as it is about Heaven (the slum), it is also about how these girls have grown up and become who they are in that moment. The characters are vibrant and memorable, and Subramanian’s writing really creates a vivid picture of them and their lives. It makes you constantly want to know more about these characters and what might happen to them beyond the confines of the novel, but also carefully weaves together the stories to build up the narrative.
A People’s History of Heaven is a joyous and surprising novel that celebrates variation whilst not shying away from some of the realities that people face. It is the kind of book you can’t help but recommend to people or give as a gift to someone looking for something new and fresh.