Novel: The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota
Published: June 18th 2015 by Picador
Genre: Cultural, Fiction, Contemporary
Rating: 4/5 stars
Goodreads | Bookdepository
I received this book for free from the publisher. This does not affect my opinion in any way.
Synopsis: The Year of the Runaways tells of the bold dreams and daily struggles of an unlikely family thrown together by circumstance. Thirteen young men live in a house in Sheffield, each in flight from India and in desperate search of a new life. Tarlochan, a former rickshaw driver, will say nothing about his past in Bihar; and Avtar has a secret that binds him to protect the choatic Randeep. Randeep, in turn, has a visa-wife in a flat on the other side of town: a clever, devout woman whose cupboards are full of her husband’s clothes, in case the immigration men surprise her with a call.
The Year of the Runaways is not the kind of book I typically read. As most of you may know, I prefer to read genres such as fantasy and contemporary romance. However, thanks to some amazing circumstances –and the lovely people at Macmillan– I received a free, signed and personalized copy. If that alone wasn’t reason enough to read it, the book was also nominated for the Man Booker Prize. Now that had me intrigued. So I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and give this book a try.
I’m glad I did. I feel somewhat hesitant writing this review, just because the book is out of my comfort zone. I haven’t read many literary fiction novels, so I don’t really have a mindset to compare it with. But I’m going to go ahead and give it a try.
This is a story about illegal Indian immigrants in the UK. They came here to start a new life, a better one. After all, there is plenty of work here, right? Plenty of chances for all of us. This novel showed me how devastating these illusions can be. For all of them truly believed it. They came here for different reasons, although all of them include money. Money to be sent back to their families, whether that’s to pay rent or to pay off a debt. We see their daily struggle looking for work, and the kind of work they have to accept to even be able to pay for food. Being born and raised in this time, in a Western and rich country, that is a side of society I don’t often see. So for that reason alone, I think we should all applaud Sunjeev Sahota.
I enjoyed getting to know the characters slowly during the story. We get flashbacks to explain their background, show us the problems they are facing, and the dreams they have. I genuinely like that the story is told that way as I got to compare the people as they are now to the person they used to be. It was easy to see how their hardships had changed them. And it somewhat clouded them in mystery. I found myself wondering why they behaved the way they did. What their motivations were. How they ended up in this life.
We get a few main characters, all of them intertwined in one way. There’s Randeep, a guy often described as too sweet. A bit naive. It’s fascinating to me how a quality such as being sweet, and a nice person, which we all value can be a downside in certain situations. Sometimes, you just can’t afford to be kind. We have Avtar, who is sort of Randeep’s best friend. If you read the book, you’ll understand why I wrote sort of. Avtar truly is an intriguing character. I struggled with the question “is he a good guy?” all the time. Because he was kind to Randeep, and helped him. And he was doing all he could to help his family. But then certain actions, make him seem like a terrible person. Again, we are shown that it does not always help to be kind. There’s also Tochi, who if I’m correct, comes from a different cast. I feel like his is a story you truly have to discover for yourself. But if I were to describe him? Full of anger. The most fascinating story, to me, was Narinder’s. It was interesting to see a woman’s perspective, especially because her culture is so different than mine. I didn’t really like her as a character but I did find her fascinating!
Obviously, I don’t know much about the Indian culture or what it was like for them as illegal immigrants. So I can’t say whether this is actually an accurate representation. I’ll leave that judgment to the people who actually know anything about it. So I’ll just say this. I thought it was an eye-opening experience to read.
The only downside to this book, in my opinion, is the ending. I feel like I read this entire book, wanting to know how they would survive and save themselves along with their family. And although you do get an ending, I felt like it wasn’t enough. I needed to know more. Like how? That’s the only thing I have to remark: I felt a bit cheated at the end.
Overall, I definitely enjoyed this book. It was out of my comfort zone, as I’ve never read anything like it but it was a good read.