Book Review

The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota

The Year of the Runaways tells the story of three immigrants from India:

  • Tochi – who shares nothing of his past with those around him
  • Avtar – on a student visa, with a secret that links him to…
  • Randeep – whose visa-wife (Narinder) keeps up the pretence of their marriage so that he can be legally allowed to stay in the UK

The Year of the Runaways follows the lives of these four characters, and shows how they came to England, hoping to make their fortunes, and the battles that they face here.  We get the back story for each, and discover their reasons for leaving India.

The novel is set in 2003, but it’s content is extremely pertinent, given recent headlines.  This novel explores the darker side of immigration, from the immigrant’s perspective – the three men (amongst others) have come here seeking a better life, and yet that isn’t always what they find.  Here we see them living in shared housing that could be raided by the police at any moment, and which would see them deported at the very least if caught.  And the lengths that they go to to get here are, in many cases, extreme.

Of all the stories presented here, it was Narinder’s that grabbed me the most.  Whilst she has always lived in the UK, she still lives with certain obligations – her family has arranged a marriage for her, they won’t permit her to work – that is something that her husband may allow her to after their wedding.  She volunteers at a Gurdwara, and tries to help those who are less fortunate.  This is how she comes to be a visa-wife to Randeep – she is trying to help someone who she doesn’t know make a better life for themselves and their family.  And this is done at great isk to herself – she risks her father’s love, and her brother’s fists to do this.  She is truly selfless, and it was wonderful to see her find the courage to do what she believes is right.

This was a fascinating and eye opening novel.  I still believe that the judges for the Man Booker Prize made the right decision in declaring A Brief History of Seven Killings the winner, but it’s easy to see why this was one of the favourites to take the prize.

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