Summary and book reviews of Temporary People by Deepak Unnikrishnan

Temporary People

by Deepak Unnikrishnan

Temporary People by Deepak Unnikrishnan X
Temporary People by Deepak Unnikrishnan
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  • Paperback:
    Mar 2017, 272 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Lisa Butts

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About this Book

Book Summary

Until now, the humanitarian crisis of the so-called "guest workers" of the Gulf has barely been addressed in fiction. With his stunning, mind-altering debut novel Temporary People, Deepak Unnikrishnan delves into their histories, myths, struggles, and triumphs.

Winner of the Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing

In the United Arab Emirates, foreign nationals constitute over 80 percent of the population. Brought in to construct the towering monuments to wealth that punctuate the skylines of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, this labor force works without the rights of citizenship, endures miserable living conditions, and is ultimately forced to leave the country. Until now, the humanitarian crisis of the so-called "guest workers" of the Gulf has barely been addressed in fiction. With his stunning, mind-altering debut novel Temporary People, Deepak Unnikrishnan delves into their histories, myths, struggles, and triumphs. 

Combining the irrepressible linguistic invention of Salman Rushdie and the satirical vision of George Saunders, Unnikrishnan presents twenty-eight linked stories that careen from construction workers who shapeshift into luggage and escape a labor camp, to a woman who stitches back together the bodies of those who've fallen from buildings in progress, to a man who grows ideal workers designed to live twelve years and then perish - until they don't, and found a rebel community in the desert. With this polyphony, Unnikrishnan brilliantly maps a new, unruly global English. Giving substance and identity to the anonymous workers of the Gulf, he highlights the disturbing ways in which "progress" on a global scale is bound up with dehumanization. 

IN MUSSAFAH GREW PEOPLE

(Complete short story)

Like the crow, Kerala's much maligned bird, Malayalees adapt well anywhere. Only our language Malayalam, a palindrome, is difficult.
– Wanted criminal Ramji Rao (1989)

Not many people know that 67.5 kilometers to Dubai's west sits an island, a little sultanate ruled by an envious little grump, Sultan Mo-Mo.


May 3, 2006

The sultan had enormous eyebrows, fibrous like angora wool. In moments of strife, his eyebrows twitched violently. Like now!

His Excellency's royal blood boiled. Once again another mesmerized American news anchor gushed about Dubai's vision, hailing the imagination of the al-Maktoum family.

"Where is this vision coming from?" probed Katie Couric.

"Ignorant Yankee!" Sultan Mo-Mo's British twang bore traces of Basil Fawlty.

The sultan wanted to retch. Dubai's showboating gave him indigestion but he continued to help himself to more chips and fiery salsa, downing cold Guinness, smoking excellent hash, ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

If it isn't obvious, this is a fantastical account of the lives of the UAE's immigrant work force, an oppressed people living in poverty and without the rights of citizens, and it is not intended as a documentary of the situation, though readers may be inspired to look into the facts for themselves. The whimsy can become a little overwhelming, like watching a very long Wes Anderson film. If the humor sounds like it is in poor taste, it often is, to say nothing of the more outrageous narrative elements like the apartment building plagued by a child-molesting elevator. That being said, there is a long literary tradition, from Jonathan Swift to Kurt Vonnegut and George Saunders, of making a political point via the inappropriate and absurd, and with this profoundly clever debut, Unnikrishnan exhibits the potential to join the ranks of these luminaries.   (Reviewed by Lisa Butts).

Full Review (660 words).

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Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Interspersed throughout are briefer pieces, from one paragraph to several pages in length, concise meditations that offer up the book's best expressions of what it means to be an outsider in a land far from home.

Booklist
A careful, patient reader will love Unnikrishnan's inventive and caring connected tales.

Library Journal
Starred Review. This first novel challenges readers with a singular inventiveness expressed through a lyrical use of language and a laserlike focus that is at once charming and terrifying. Highly recommended.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. An enchanting, unparalleled anthem of displacement and repatriation.

Author Blurb Alexandra Kleeman, author of You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine
These absurdist fables, fluent in the language of exile, immigration, and bureaucracy, will remind you of the raw pleasure of storytelling and the unsettling nearness of the future.

Author Blurb Deb Olin Unferth, author of Revolution
Deepak writes brilliant stories with a fresh, passionate energy. Every page feels as if it must have been written, as if the author had no choice . . . Important work. Work of the future. This man will not be stopped

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

The United Arab Emirates

The UAE Temporary People is set largely in the United Arab Emirates, a federation of seven states located on the Persian Gulf. Each of the seven, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, and Umm al-Qaiwan have their own local governments, which are overseen by a federal president in Abu Dhabi, the nation's capital. The current leader is Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, son of the UAE's founder and first president, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.

Before the founding of the UAE, the area was populated by different groups of Muslim tribes, most notably the Bani Yas, but the area was plagued by pirates, which also impacted the European trade routes to India and the Far East. In 1820, the British signed a treaty of protection with ...

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