They serve native populations, once fishermen and tradespeople, as poor as their own ancestors, now made outlandishly rich by the world’s dependence on oil — a happenstance of geography. The fiction book reviewed below, Temporary People, humanizes the “neocoolies” of the present-day international order — those who do the dirty-job work for the wealthy in the Arabian Gulf.
It’s worth pointing out that these individuals are the same men and women who find service as subcontracted workers on America’s military bases throughout the region. Though the wages earned would drive a soldier to mutiny, and have been the subject of controversy, they remain, relative to home opportunities, high enough to continue to lure economic migrants from the poorest of India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Pakistan.
The DoD is aware of the exploitation that can be part of employing such temporary people and has taken steps to train soldiers and contractors to report abuse.
TEMPORARY PEOPLE By Deepak Unnikrishnan227 pp. Restless Books. Paper, $17.99. Deepak Unnikrishnan’s novel-in-stories narrates a series of metamorphoses. Guest workers dissolve into passports, a man begins “moonlighting as a mid-sized hotel” and a sultan harvests a fresh crop of laborers.