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The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota
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The Year of the Runaways

by Sunjeev Sahota

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This was an interesting read. It tells the story of three Indian immigrants to Britain: Tochi, Randeep and Avtar. Each man has different personal circumstances and reasons for coming to Britain, but mainly there is no work to be had in India and they have heard that Britain is the best place to go for quick and easy money. Avtar has a dodgey student visa, Randeep has a dodgey marriage visa and Tochi has no visa whatsoever. The character of Narinder, a British-Indian completes this quartet as Randeep's visa wife, and she also has her own justifications for helping him. The three men end up living together in a squat in Sheffield, trampling each other to get the limited menial jobs available to them for much less than the minimum wage. Fear of a raid and suspicious of each other, unsurprisingly they soon realise that life in Britain can be just as hard as the life they left behind.

What I found interesting is the rejection the three of them experienced by members of their own community in places of refuge such as the local Gurdwaras; and it is often their kinsman who are exploiting them as cheap labour. My heart went out to them as they struggled in different ways. Avtar cannot pay back the loan sharks the debt he owes for buying his visa; Tochi is rejected constantly for being a member of the lowest caste in India; and kindhearted Randeep is constantly let down by Avtar and Tochi who he considers his friends. It's quite a bleak. Desperation turns to stealing and violence and there are many scenes that were hard to read.

Despite the interesting subject matter, there were a few things that dampened my enjoyment. There are many Punjabi words that are interspersed throughout the book and I had not a clue what a lot of them meant. There was no glossary and I wasn't able to decipher most of them from the context in which they were being used. I felt distanced by this and could not fully immerse myself in the story. Also, all of the characters were unlikeable in some degree as one of them commits attempted rape, another attempted murder, and the other steals a years worth of savings from one of the other two men. The novel also abruptly ends with an epilogue, ten years in the future where circumstances have drastically changed for the four characters with almost no explanation given. It was quite a strange ending.

I really felt like Sunjeev Sahota really did not shy away from telling the full truth of what many immigrants may go through and the depths of hardship and despair they have to endure. There is no doubt that this book feels very relevant to the current times, and I feel like the author's frustration really came through when the three men all realised the deep discrepancy of their expectation vs. reality. ( )
  4everfanatical | Jan 25, 2017 |
Sunjeev Sahota’s Booker Prize-shortlisted novel is a dramatic discourse on the immigrant experience in the 21st century. The story follows the fortunes of three young men—Tochi, Randeep and Avtar—who risk everything to journey to the UK from India in the hope of building better lives for themselves and, in the case of Randeep and Avtar, their families. The three come from vastly different backgrounds, but the thing they have most poignantly in common is an urgent desire to escape the humiliating and soul-crushing poverty that is sure to be their fate if they remain at home. In the attempt to improve their prospects, they follow the path taken by thousands if not millions before them: using various ruses (legal, semi-legal, outright criminal) to secure passage to England. Avtar poses as a student, Randeep takes a “visa wife,” Tochi is smuggled in as himself: a young illegal looking for work, any work. The bulk of the novel chronicles their adventures and hardships once they land in England as they seek employment and toil under a variety of circumstances and conditions, some demeaning, others not. Early in the novel, flashbacks provide context for their struggles and aspirations. We learn why they feel they have no choice, why for them remaining in India not an option. At the root of their experience as immigrants is the desperation they share with countless others, their dogged persistence in the search for a way to earn money against extreme odds, their willingness to do anything—cheating, lying, stealing, and even using cruel or underhanded means to eke out an advantage over others of their kind. For Tochi, Randeep and Avtar money equals freedom. Money is the only way out from under a system that, if it could, would keep their stomachs empty and hold their faces in the dirt until their last breath. Money is the only way to gain legitimacy and no longer fear the knock on the door in the middle of the night. The other main character, Narinder, a second-generation UK native of Punjabi descent, is driven by strong faith and guilt over her privileged lifestyle to help those in need. In defiance of her family’s plans for her—as an act of mercy rather than of the heart—she agrees to marry Randeep so he can enter the UK legally. As a writer, Sahota’s prose is not elegant. The literary flourishes are few. Instead, he builds atmosphere by layering detail upon detail. The Indian countryside is barren, hot, dusty, the cities pungent, crowded and raucous. Sheffield, England, where much of the action takes place over the year of the title, is damp and dreary, frigid and unforgiving. The triumph of The Year of the Runaways is its human element. Not all of Sahota’s characters are likeable, but when they behave badly he makes sure we understand why. This is an absorbing novel that puts a human face on an ongoing modern tragedy. ( )
  icolford | Sep 4, 2016 |
This book is almost entirely bleak and oppressive. Sahota very effectively conveys the oppression of poverty and of culture on his main characters, too well for the comfort of the reader. The unremitting pressure to survive, to cope with set backs and mistreatment at the hands of others, to meet the expectations of family and society, all whilst trying to work out their own identity in a world which challenges so many of the values they have been handed by their upbringing - all is set out in disturbing bleakness and hopelessness.
As I approached the end of the book, part of me wanted a hopeful resolution to at least some of the story lines, part of me hoped that Sahota would resist the temptation. Sadly, the epilogue provides neither in any satisfactory way. It feels like something Sahota was forced to add on by an unsympathetic editor afraid that the readers would be driven away by the bleakness of the novel. 19 August 2016 ( )
  alanca | Aug 20, 2016 |
I'm a little in two minds about this bleak tragicomic page turner, set in the netherworld of Indian Sikhs working illegally at the margins of British society, and their hopes, dreams, motivations, problems and impossible choices. If you ignore the moments of comedy, it would be relentlessly depressing but very moving. Sahota is a gifted story teller and succeeds in making you care about the characters despite the horrific nature of many of their experiences. I did feel that given the number of Punjabi and Sikh words and phrases that are liberally sprinkled, a glossary would have been very useful. So thought provoking and moving if a little caricatured, but I'm not sure I could describe it as an enjoyable read overall. ( )
  bodachliath | Aug 10, 2016 |
Finally, I am able to read the last of the 2015 Man Booker shortlist. I make it a point to read the whole list before the prize is awarded, but American publication dates make that difficult sometimes. The Year of the Runaways, a novel about Indian refugees in England, was this year's holdout: the book that wouldn't be published in the States until months after the award.

So I read the book and, finally, I'm getting around to this review. It's been more than a month since I finished The Year of the Runaways. As I look back, I'm struggling to remember what it was I even read.

It's not that The Year of the Runaways wasn't memorable in any way. Some of the scenes and characters really stuck with me. It's just that The Year of the Runaways is such a sprawling story and those moments are sometimes few and far between. What lies between these moments is not ornate or profound, but just the simple telling of a story. There's nothing quotable here. Nothing one can point to as a defining unique characteristic of the novel. It's surprisingly uncomplicated for a Man Booker nominee. Despite this simplicity, the story is well told. It's smooth even as it makes jumps in time, place, and character. The subject is certainly poignant, but it's questionable whether The Year of the Runaways has long-term staying power. One may equate it with The King's Speech in a year that also brought cutting-edge films such as The Social Network and Black Swan, or Argo in a year with such a visually stunning feat as Life of Pi. These historical, plot-driven movies were enough for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to take notice, but it seems the Man Booker judges were looking for something more. ( )
1 vote chrisblocker | Jul 13, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 14 (next | show all)
An ideal antidote to a year of reductive discussions of immigration, Sunjeev Sahota’s novel takes you deep into the lives of a group of Indian labourers thrown together in Sheffield. Deftly shifting in time and place, Sahota builds a portrait of the often painful circumstances that lead these men to abandon life in India for this cold, damp city, in the hope of starting afresh....The Year of the Runaways is no less accomplished in its lyrical prose and ability to immerse the reader in the experiences of a hidden community in Britain.
 
Through these stories and others, Sahota moves some of the most urgent political questions of the day away from rhetorical posturing and contested statistics into the realm of humanity. The Year of the Runaways is a brilliant and beautiful novel.
 
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Randeep Sanghera stood in front of the green-and-blue map tacked to the wall.
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amazon uk : 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.

Sweeping between India and England, and between childhood and the present day, Sunjeev Sahota's generous, unforgettable novel is - as with Rohinton Mistry's A Fine Balance - a story of dignity in the face of adversity and the ultimate triumph of the human spirit.
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The lives of three young men, and one unforgettable woman, intertwine over the course of one year after they immigrate from India to Sheffield, England.

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