Winner of The Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing
“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,
Winner of The Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing
“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
In the United Arab Emirates, foreign nationals constitute over 80 percent of the population. Brought in to construct and serve the towering monuments to wealth that punctuate the skylines of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, this labor force is not given the option of citizenship. Some ride their luck to good fortune. Others suffer different fates. 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 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 of voices, Unnikrishnan maps a new, unruly global English and gives personhood back to the anonymous workers of the Gulf.
- Restless Books
- March 2017
- 224 Pages
“Deepak Unnikrishnan 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. He writes about exile, immigration, deportation, security checks, rage, patience, about the homelessness of living in a foreign land, about historical events so strange that, under his hand, the events become tales, and he writes tales so precisely that they read like history. Important work. Work of the future. This man will not be stopped.”—Deb Olin Unferth, author of Revolution: The Year I Fell in Love and Went to Join the Sandinistas
1. The word Pravasi appears several times in Temporary People—it means immigrant or migrant. How do immigration and migration play out in the book? How would you relate the stories in the book to what’s happening in the news regarding immigration today?
2. Many people in the Persian Gulf work menial jobs without the rights of citizenship. Which chapters of Temporary People struck you as a particularly effective depiction of these workers, and why? Which aspects of their lives did you identify with or were the most surprised by?
3. What do you think of the book’s title? How does the book play with the idea of “temporariness”?
4. Temporary People depicts supernatural scenarios—such as sentient elevators and talking cockroaches—as well as scenes that are more firmly grounded in reality. Why do you think the author chose to go beyond realism in the book, and what effect do those surreal scenarios have on the reading experience?
5. What do you think about the way that language is used in the book? Pick a few moments that stand out to you and discuss.
6. How did the book alter your impressions of life in the United Arab Emirates?
7. The two stories entitled ” Blattella Germanica” include accounts of the same events, with many of the same observations, but with a different narrative voice and framing. Why do you think the author chose this repetition? What is its effect?
8. Storytelling, writing, and the nature of narrative are subjects of the stories in Temporary People. How does the author’s toying with the idea of storytelling challenge ideas about truth, objectivity, and the purpose of fiction?
9. In the book’s opening and closing stories, travelers moving through airports take improbably proportioned objects into their bodies. What might these surreal components suggest about the migrant experience—what they bring with them, give up, and become?
10. Are there other books you would compare to Temporary People? Who would you recommend it to that might not ordinarily be drawn to read it?
It took me a while to finish Temporary People. As I wrote and rewrote the work I realized I needed to read more to get better at what I wanted my work to do. I suppose you could say in order to write I needed to read and be better informed. And occasionally, watch things, like films. The following books (and other visual mediums) have profoundly influenced the way I see the world. This list does not represent everything I adore about literature, or everything that took to make Temporary People happen. Certainly not, but all of these names have been crucial to my understanding of the written word, and what could be possible with the craft. There are other names but these will do for now. I’m grateful to them all. —Deepak Unnikrishnan, from Restless Books blog
Disgrace, by J. M. Coetzee
Notes from No Man’s Land, by Eula Biss
Alphabet, by Inger Christensen
English, by Jeet Thayil
The Iraqi Christ and The Madman of Freedom Square, by Hassan Blasim
Wave, by Sonali Deraniyagala
Here, by Richard McGuire
Goat Days, by Benyamin
The Beast, by Óscar Martínez
Sex: An Oral History, by Harry Maurer
The Photographer, by Didier Lefevre, Emmanuel Guibert and Frederic Lemercier
The Moon and Sixpence, by W. Somerset Maugham
One Day I Will Write About This Place, by Binyavanga Wainaina
Arabian Sands and The Marsh Arabs, by Wilfred Thesiger
Cities of Salt (Trilogy), by Abdelrahman Munif
Night Draws Near, by Anthony Shadid
Arabesques, by Anton Shammas
One Thousand and One Nights
Today I Wrote Nothing, by Daniil Kharms
The nonfiction of V. S. Naipaul
The work of Primo Levi
The work of Joe Sacco
The work of Enid Blyton
Comics: Amar Chitra Katha
Jimmy Corrigan, by Chris Ware
The stories of Nadine Gordimer
The stories of Lydia Davis
The stories of Zora Neale Hurston
The stories of Kuzhali Manickavel
Rashomon and other Stories, by Ryunosuke Akutagawa
Civilwarland in Bad Decline, by George Saunders
Midnight’s Children, by Salman Rushdie
The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy
Bury Me Standing, by Isabel Fonseca
When Memory Dies, by A. Sivananthan
Invisible Cities, by Italo Calvino
The Pig and the Skyscraper, by Marco D’eramo
City of Boys, by Beth Nugent
What You’ve Been Missing, by Janet DeSaulniers
A Seventh Man, by John Berger
The Gnomes of Gnu, The Bomb and the General, and The Three Astronauts, by Umberto Eco
Parasite Rex, by Carl Zimmer
The People of Paper, by Salvador Plascencia
This is Not a Novel, by David Markson
Workers, by Sebastiao Salgado (Photographs)
Waltz With Bashir, by Ari Folman (Documentary)
Latcho Drom, by Tony Gatlif (Documentary)
Leolo, by Jean-Claude Lauzon (Film)