Thursday, March 16, 2017, 7:00 p.m., City Lights Booksellers, 261 Columbus Avenue, San Francisco
in conversation with Shanthi Sekaran
celebrating his new award winning novel
from Restless Books
Winner of the Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing
In the United Arab Emirates, foreign nationals constitute over 80% of the population. Brought in to construct the towering monuments to wealth that bristle the skylines of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, this labor force works without the rights of citizenship, endures miserable living conditions, and is eventually required to leave the country. 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 book Temporary People, debut author Deepak Unnikrishnan delves into their histories, myths, struggles, and triumphs, and illuminates the ways in which temporary status affects psyches, families, memories, stories, and languages.
Combining the irrepressible linguistic invention of Salman Rushdie and the darkly funny satirical vision of George Saunders, Deepak 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. In this polyphony of voices, Unnikrishnan brilliantly maps a new, unruly global English, and in giving substance and identity to the anonymous workers of the Gulf, he highlights the disturbing ways in which "progress" on a global scale is bound up with dehumanization.
Deepak Unnikrishnan is a writer and taleteller from Abu Dhabi (and now, Chicago). He has lived on the East Coast and in the Midwest, reciting and mining his myths in Teaneck, New Jersey, Brooklyn, New York, and Chicago's North and South sides. He has studied and taught at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and presently teaches at New York University Abu Dhabi. Temporary People, his first book, was the inaugural winner of the Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing.
Shanthi Sekaran teaches creative writing at California College of the Arts, and is a member of the Portuguese Artists Colony and the San Francisco Writers' Grotto. Her work has appeared in Best New American Voices and Canteen, and online at Zyzzyva and Mutha Magazine. Her first novel, The Prayer Room, was published by MacAdam Cage. She recently released a new novel: Lucky Boy from G.P. Putnam & Sons.
Critical Praise for the work of Deepak Unnikrishnan:
"Please, if you care for my opinion, read this writing of Deepak Unnikrishnan and support him. He is a magnificent fellow with an intricate and beautiful mind; this work he does now, already wonderful and many times over worthy of publication, is but the smallest part of what he will do in time."
“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
“Unnikrishnan’s debut novel shines a light on a little known world with compassion and keen insight. The Temporary People are invisible people—but Unnikrishnan brings them to us with compassion, intelligence, and heart. This is why novels matter.”
—Susan Hans O’Connor, Penguin Bookshop (Sewickley, PA)
“From the strange Kafka-esque scenarios to the wholly original language, this book is amazing on so many different levels. Unlike anything I've ever read, Temporary People is a powerful work of short stories about foreign nationals who populate the new economy in the United Arab Emirates. With inventive language and darkly satirical plot lines, Unnikrishnan provides an important view of relentless nature of a global economy and its brutal consequences for human lives. Prepare to be wowed by the immensely talented new voice.”
—Hilary Gustafson, Literati Bookstore (Ann Arbor, MI)
“Absolutely preposterous! As a debut, author Unnikrishnan shares stories of laborers, brought to the United Arab Emirates to do menial and everyday jobs. These people have no rights, no fallback if they have problems or health issues in that land. The laborers in Temporary People are sewn back together when they fall, are abandoned in the desert if they become inconvenient, and are even grown from seeds. As a collection of short stories, this is fantastical, imaginative, funny, and even more so, scary, powerful, and ferocious.”
—Becky Milner, Vintage Books (Vancouver WA)
“This is a fascinating, difficult, and chaotic read, but I couldn’t put it down. Its linked stories, myths, or allegories examine the condition of the guest worker subclass (but they are a silent majority) in the Gulf States where nary an Arab worker is to be found. It gets an A+ for language play and for illuminating a sore point of social injustice that any visitor to the United Arab Emirates would have seen, if not understood.”
—Darwin Ellis, Books on the Common (Ridgefield, CT)