I read this book about a month ago, and it’s already fading from my memory a bit, so here’s a review before it slips out of my memory altogether.
The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota made it to the Man Booker shortlist last year, and ever since I heard about the theme of the book (Indian migrants living in England), I’ve wanted to read this book.
This book tells the story of three young men – Tarlochan, a former rickshaw driver who has left behind a horrific past in India, Avtar, who sold a kidney to get the money to come to England, and Randeep, who has come to England with the help of a visa-wife – Narinder.
Narinder’s story is also weaved into the lives of these men – and she turns out to be the most interesting and surprising character of them all.
All three men are under the impression that a better life could be had for them in England. But is life really easier over there? And what do they have to sacrifice for this mythical better life?
On the surface, the book is organized to tell the story of the one year in the lives of these protagonists when their paths cross ways in England. But it goes deep into everyone’s back stories and so it is not as slice-of-life type of book as I was expecting.
The book starts a little abruptly dropping us straight into their lives in Sheffield, England, and then slowly developing their back stories a bit at a time enhancing the suspense of how they got there.
I know a lot of migrants who went on to settle in England very well ( a few of them students who overstayed their visa), and I’ve heard a lot of the stories they told. So, I can tell you that every line that Sahota wrote about these three men rang true to me – right from their methods of migrating into the country, their way of living, and the kind of work they did. Mr. Sahota really did his research.
But because such stories were very familiar to me, I have to say I didn’t quite relish them as much as I expected to. There was no novelty factor! And because their lives were so grim and dull, the book reflected that too, and up to the middle section, reading this book was a bit of a chore.
It’s only after the middle of the book when Narinder comes into the spotlight that I sat up and took notice. Narinder is not a character that you fall in love with. She is difficult – extremely religious, and makes choices that as a reader I found ridiculous. But there is something to her, some force, a moral core that makes you want to keep reading and find out whether she gets her happy ending.
When eventually, she loses her faith in God and her religion – Sikhism, my heart just broke. The section where she removes her turban and loosens her hair is haunting.
comes down in ribbons, loosening, uncoiling, falling.
just like her faith in God.
The actual book ending was a bit abrupt, but thankfully, there was an epilogue tagged on, which shows the lives of all these people a decade later. The epilogue was badly needed to give a little closure to the story.
The epilogue also gives a bit of sunshine to an otherwise grim story.
But that’s my opinion on the epilogue – I saw a lot of reviews on the net complaining that it was too hokey and unrealistic, but I liked it.
Happiness is a pretty precarious state, Randeep. I’m content. That’s more than enough. That’s more than most.
I guess that’s the case for most people, right?
This book was one of the books that was a strong contender for the Man Booker in 2015. However, the award eventually went to A Brief History of Seven Killings, which I admit is the more complex and better book.
The Year of the Runaways while good stopped short at actually rising to the level of sublime.
You can also buy a copy of this book from Amazon.