Book Review: The Year of the Runaways

Immigration frauds, fake marriages for a visa, youth turning up in London and other world cities from various places of India, to earn some money and send back home. Someone is working in London gutters so that his sister’s dowry can be collected. Someone wants a Pakka House for their family back in the village. Someone wants to pay off loans and some have even sold their organs to come and live in foreign lands where one can dream of a life of their own. A good life without any judgments of caste and where degrees are not just pieces of paper.

The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota is one such book that keeps the immigration fraud as background, but digs deeper into lives off three young men which are forced into a life to emerge out as owner’s of their destiny. Sahota’s debut novel won him Granta’s Best Young British Novelist, and this book has now been nominated for the Booker’s Prize 2015. He has definitely done something right.

The Year of the Runaways is a story about three young men who use immigration fraud measures to get jobs and citizenship in London to help in their respective family’s survival. Tarlochan, an auto driver, and a scheduled caste want to break free from the world where he is constantly being judged as a taboo. Randeep, a regular boy living with his family, gives into undesired circumstances to run off to London so that his mother can sustain the household as his father is not earning anymore and is bed ridden. Avtar, who has already sold his kidney to goons, now wants to earn more so that he can settle down with the love of his life. And the center of their dreams is Narinder, who is Randeep’s visa wife. But her love remains with someone unexpected from the story.

This curry of emotions and hardships has been the best read of this month. Sahota’s writing is fluent and easy to understand. It will leave you in a trance and will make you want to read more and know what happens next. You will not feel like keeping the book down. Sahota has taken his own sweet time to unfold each character, each story very carefully so that the interest and patience of the reader can be balanced. The book has been divided into four sections; Winter, which introduces each main character and their life in India, Spring which shares what went wrong with their lives which made them pack their bags and leave, Summer which bunks them under one roof and Autumn, which starts descending towards the time when they began their journey.

My favorite characters of the book are Tarlochan and Narinder. They are both very different but similar at the core. Both of them question caste and religion from time to time when they see the real world, both of them sacrificing enough to make someone else happy (Tarlochan used to eat only half roti so that his younger brother can eat more, Narinder became a visa wife to help Randeep get citizenship). The best moment in the book was when Narinder  sees Tarlochan in Kanyakumari, with his family and wants to do only one thing, catch an early train to leave from there. Maybe to hide her pain?

The only issue the book would be the areas where Sahota has left many incidents open ended. Like when Tarlochan’s family was murdered, what exactly happened? He didn’t explain it then and there, he explained it when Trilochan was angry with Narinder. Just like this, there are many incidents which will make you ask questions. But then you have to carry on reading as it comes, and that is where the beauty lies. A must recommendation for every reader.



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