What does it mean to be one of the thousands of migrant workers whose labor allows modern metropolises like Dubai and Abu Dhabi to prosper? This novel (or story collection where all the tales are fragments of a grander narrative arc) has answers in spades. Some pieces simply, evocatively list occupations. Others spin wild, disturbing, and literally shape-shifting allegories from their fragile existences. Unnikrishnan has been compared to George Saunders for good reason -- he has the same social acuity, the same dark magic, and the same comic spark.
The best pieces in this collection of eerie tales, and there are many, recall the peak ghost story output of M. R. James: elegantly composed, attuned to the darkness lurking within provincial towns and antique objects, and haunted by sudden supernatural visions. Yet without explicitly conforming to the style of horror, his work is somehow darker than so much else, obviously shaped by the attitudes of the times when its author lived. (Ghelderode originally published this in Belgium in the very midst of World War II.) Even so, there’s so much humor to spare -- see “Rhotomago”, where a demon gets loosed from a bottle and is unceremoniously forced back in.