BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

A People’s History of Heaven by Mathangi Subramanian [in Booklist]

What began as a family affair – Jeed Saddy made her aural debut with her sister-in-law’s memoir, First Comes Marriage – has turned into a promising bookish career: in just a few months, Saddy’s already onto her third narrating credit. Her versatile characterizations highlight the intertwined lives of five girls – “born the same year in the same slum” – in Mathangi Subramanian’s affecting adult debut.

Home is marked with “Swarga” – meaning “heaven” – an ironic, leftover fragment of a 30-year-old broken sign, “Swargahalli,” delineating a Bangalore slum repeatedly slated for demolition, and threatened yet again. Remarkably resilient older women, especially mothers, who know too much about female devaluation, truculently guard ‘heaven’ for Deepa (insightful and blind), Banu (street-artist-in-the-making), Padma (responsible beyond her youth), Rukshana (Muslim and queer), and Joy (transgender and Christian).

Inevitable maturity presents growing unspeakable threats, but “us girls” – bonded together regardless of the infinite -isms that drive communities apart – offer cautious hope beyond survival towards an emboldened future. From gentle to outraged, resigned to relentless, Saddy embodies an enchanting spectrum of personalities with agile authenticity.

Review: “Media,” Booklist, January 3, 2020

Readers: Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2019


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