A novel in linked stories in which guest workers of the United Arab Emirates embody multiple worlds and identities and long for home. Winner of the inaugural Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing
Combining surreal symbolism and linear narrative, wordplay and lists, family history and mythic retellings, Unnikrishnan uses fiction to '[illuminate] how temporary status affects psyches, families, memories, fables, and language(s).' In a brilliant, subversive move, Unnikrishnan connects his three 'books' with a single-word chapter, 'Pravasis' – Malayalam for migrant, or 'temporary people' in Unnikrishnan-speak, which he repeats three times in each book ... [an] unsettling, dazzling, astute collection ... Its publication couldn’t be more timely given the current outcries for and against immigrants, bans, raids, and mass deportations. As an antidote to border politics, Unnikrishnan’s stories serve as both testimony and oracle to be read with grave urgency.
Deepak Unnikrishnan’s new novel is made even more moving by the author’s statement about writing it: 'Temporary People is a work of fiction set in the UAE, where I was raised and where foreign nationals constitute over 80 percent of the population. It is a nation built by people who are eventually required to leave' ... There is nothing comfortable about Unnikrishnan’s Temporary People, but it is challenging, thought-provoking and timely.
What separates Unnikrishnan from Rushdie, and the vast literature of exile that precedes them, are his subjects. Temporary People explores the lives of arguably the least privileged class of nomads in the 21st century: guest workers ... Temporary People is a robust, if somewhat scattered, entry into the nascent portrayal of migrant labor in the Gulf ... In Unnikrishnan’s imaginings, this ever-present threat of displacement comes to the fore only during his characters’ most naked moments. His depictions of sex are entangled with the ganglia of residency, race, class and gender, as well as the instability and inadequacy of language, the collection’s constant refrain ... Unnikrishnan’s collection poses its questions obliquely, but demands explicit answers. What causes a society to look like this?