Temporary People

Temporary People

Book - 2017
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"Guest workers of the United Arab Emirates embody multiple worlds and identities and long for home in a fantastical debut work of fiction, winner of the inaugural Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing... The author's crisp, imaginative prose packs a punch, and his whimsical depiction of characters who oscillate between two lands on either side of the Arabian Sea unspools the kind of immigrant narratives that are rarely told. An enchanting, unparalleled anthem of displacement and repatriation" -- Kirkus Reviews, starred review
Publisher: Brooklyn, New York : Restless Books, 2017
Edition: First Restless Books paperback edition
ISBN: 9781632061423
Branch Call Number: F UNNIK-D
Characteristics: 251 pages : illustrations ; 21 cm


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Jun 07, 2017

You understand at once why this brilliant novel about "guest workers" in the United Arab Emirates won the inaugural Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Fiction; it brings home the humanity of the many immigrants, mostly from South Asian, who power the Persian Gulf's economic rise, but whose precarious position as permanent aliens leaves them without rights. Unnikrishnan has an eerie ability to create dense magical realist metaphors for loss and dislocation that get you in the gut and feel true, even if you can't articulate why. People become suitcases or are literally disassembled by airport security; prisons become museums; and wealthy Gulf Staters begin growing their workers in greenhouses with piped-in Arabic to save money. Though each chapter is a different story, it feels like one unified novel, and incidents recur from different perspectives in different chapters. I'm especially haunted by "Birds," in which Anna uses duct tape to repair the construction workers from her homeland who fall from the skyscrapers they are building, and "Germanica Blatella," a story about cockroaches and assimilation that shouldn't work but really does. The book also explores ideas about masculinity, and several stories are frank about the reality of male bisexuality and the costs of society refusing to acknowledge it. I would recommend it to fans of Mohsin Hamid's Exit West or Wu Ming-Yi's Man with the Compound Eyes, and maybe to those of Mia Alvar's more realistic In the Country, which also touches on guest workers in the Gulf.


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