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Nia is a young Welsh woman who has dropped out of Oxford and is working in Vesuvio, a cheap Italian restaurant in London. She is of mixed Welsh and Indian heritage, but she is firmly a UK national.

Shan, working in the same restaurant, is Tamil and having his application for residency processed. He is not allowed to work. He dreams of bringing his family over from Sri Lanka.

Most of Nia and Shan’s co-workers are undocumented or illegal workers, always keeping one ear open for an Immigration Service raid.

The linchpin for the story is Tuli, the owner of Vesuvio. Tuli is a curious character. He loans money and pays debts; he facilitates people trafficking; he employs illegal workers. He could be seen to exploit desperate people, but equally, he is able to persuade himself and others that he is some kind of saviour figure rescuing those in the time of greatest need. It’s never clear to the reader which side of the divide he falls, or even whether there really is a divide. Is that a metaphor for all of us - liking to do good but essentially looking after ourselves?

The structure of the novel can seem a bit clunky. Nia and Shan narrate separate sections, and for much of the beginning their stories don’t really intersect - so a dual storyline. Then when they do converge, the chopping from one perspective to the other makes the novel feel a bit blocky when it might have been smother to be able to keep popping back and forth in paragraphs.

There is also a fairly significant plot issue where Shan is required to be unable to seek treatment from the health service. But, having applied for residence, he surely would have had access to proper healthcare...

Nevertheless, the story is engaging and Nia, as a terminal underachiever, is an engaging character. I have met Nias. Shan is harder to know. Although there is a bit of backstory, it doesn’t quite define Shan as a person, more as a refugee. I suspect that like Nia, Shan was supposed to come across as a man with way more potential than he could use in a pizza joint, and that we could compare the different journeys that had brought them to this pass. Shan’s route being one of ambition and a desire to improve his situation; Nia’s as one of running away from opportunity.

You People does have plenty to think about, not least in considering the scale of investment that families are prepared to make for a journey of illegal migration and what seems to be a precarious and impoverished existence. But I think there is a deeper story to be told in terms of how people like Tuli reconcile their morals with their deeds.

 

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