The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota
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.
First Impressions: Ooohhh, I like this book! It opened a door to a world I couldn’t imagine.
Highlights: I found this one of those though provoking reads that you are desperate to read in one sitting if only you had the time and end up thinking about for a long time after. There’s something wrong with the way things are when people prefer living and working (illegally) for pittance in a country like Britain rather than stay with their families in their home country. Yes, the people who manage this employment need to be punished but then the immigrants who are here for what they see as an opportunity are also exposed and punished when they have given up everything to get here. Is that fair to them? Anyway, it is a real window into a world I couldn’t imagine. Avtar makes the point that only people with steady income have the luxury of worrying about whether they belong and fit in. As an expat living in London, fair enough. Point taken.
Anyway, I found Narinder’s (Randeep’s visa-wife) character the most intriguing. What an interesting upbringing in a cosmopolitan city like London. I wanted to hear more! Overall I liked the current time story the best as opposed to the flashbacks to India and the update a few years on but really, it was all great. In the ‘India’ chapters I did find the visa (and illegal) routes in to the UK thought provoking, and as for the parents of a disabled British Sikh woman celebrating because after three years they finally got a marriage proposal, albeit a visa-marriage from India…Oh dear. I can’t think about it…
If I was an editor: As much as I loved Narinder’s character I did wonder if her father really would have allowed her that much freedom. Narinder’s actions troubled her father deeply but for such a strict environment the father did seem overly understanding at times.
Overall: Could be my favourite book of the year…