A People’s History of Heaven by Mathangi Subramanian
Reviewed by Parker!!!!
**We received an early copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. We’d like to thank Mathangi and Algonquin Books for the opportunity. This book comes out on March 19th and you can get a copy here.”
Mathangi Subramanian takes us into the lives of the girl-children of Heaven, a shantytown near Bangalore, India. It reads like a series of connected vignettes, with each chapter revealing some later of these girls’ lives. Like all of us, their shit is fraught and heavy, but they manage, soldier on, they thrive.
What makes A People’s History so masterful to me is that it gets at all the issues that worry preteens: love, adulthood, school, dreams, identity, responsibility, familial baggage. I felt my own childhood fears and discomforts made manifest by these characters, even as I learned about their language(s), lives, and culture.
I was blown away by the imagery in this novel; it was rich and varied and touched on all my senses to help place me in Heaven, among the tree leaves, watching strangers get married, brushing shoulders with a love I don’t have to tell and who i’m not supposed to have. I am positioned, like all the girls and women whose physical and emotional toil moves the novel, beneath men and castes. we are the subaltern, at home but displaced, powerless but necessary to keep family lines and status quo intact. We have only ourselves, our headmistress, our ajji (grandmothers).
I want to tell you precisely why I rooted so hard for each of these girls, but yanno, spoilers. I’ll summarize like so:
Queen Joy is a study in magnificence and perseverance; talented Banu blows everyone away; sweet strong Deepa tells it like the fuck it is and saves the day. Headmistress Janaki Ma’am stole my heart in every scene she was in. The educator in me swells with pride reading about all she does for her students– the high expectations she has for them, all she’s willing to sacrifice to make their futures brighter. It’s trash that she has to do so, but that’s what teaching is. period.
Through all their differences, these girls and women make community. They lean silently on one another to account for shortcomings and amplify talents, and they are each, so, so talented.
A People’s History of Heaven is terrific and beautiful, a rumination on the traumas that life brings, and how friendship can be the raft that carries us through it safely. Chapter by chapter, line by line, it will break you down; image by image, hug by hug, it will put you back together again. If you let them, the butterflies will float you away.
Pairing: Hot Toddy with honey.