Magazine article World Literature Today

Temporary People

Magazine article World Literature Today

Temporary People

Article excerpt

Featured Review Deepak Unnikrishnan. Temporary People. Brooklyn. Restless Books. 2017. 240 pages.

Deepak Unnikrishnan's Temporary People is a riveting debut collection of twentyeight short stories written in a mélange of stylistic registers. Fiction, Unnikrishnan writes, has "barely addressed the so-called guest workers of the (Arabian) Gulf." Divided into three parts-"Limbs," "Tongue," and "Home"-Temporary People addresses this absence and explores how "temporary status affects psyches, families, memories, fables, and language(s)." Critical here is the fleeting, groundless, and ephemeral quality of the temporary; its propensity to efface or render ghostly the stories of individual lives. As Muthassi in "Sarama" says: "Everybody . . . has a past that ought to be heard. The present is paralyzed without a past."

The poignancy of Temporary People is accentuated by the fact that such pasts are often not heard. When the stories find auditors, they assume ghoulish, grotesque shapes. The tone is set by the statement of an anonymous person that serves as an epigraph for "Limbs": "There exists this city built by labor, mostly men, who disappear after their respective buildings are made. Once the last brick is laid . . . the laborers . . . begin to fade, before disappearing completely. Some believe the men become ghosts, haunting the façades they helped build. When visiting, take note. If outside, and there are buildings nearby, ghosts may already be falling." Temporary People is thus an attempt to "take note," to provide narrative and figurative shape to pasts, bodies, tongues, and homes that conditions of temporariness dismember and render spectral. …

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