cover image Temporary People

Temporary People

Deepak Unnikrishnan. Restless, $17.99 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-63206-142-3

There is much to admire in Unnikrishnan’s fanciful and fervent debut, a collection of stories about the lives of guest workers in the United Arab Emirates. In one of the early pieces, the U.A.E.’s capital city, Abu Dhabi, is described as a “board game, labor its players, there to make buildings bigger, streets longer, the economy richer. Then to leave.” Unnikrishnan explores the depredations, sorrows, and longings of these foreign laborers, who are often treated as disposable, with a dark whimsy. The style varies widely; one tale consists simply of a list of professions and adjectives. Some of the longer allegorical stories—including one about a nurse who reassembles the bodies of injured construction workers “with duct tape or some good glue,” or another about a “master scavenger of the spoken word,” a cockroach who picks up the languages spoken by the diverse residents of an infested building—achieve the proper mix of absurdity and pathos. Others, however, force a flimsy conceit to bear too much weight. 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. (Mar.)