Excerpt from The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Year of the Runaways

A novel

by Sunjeev Sahota

The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota X
The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2016, 496 pages

    Feb 2017, 496 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte
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Print Excerpt

Chapter 1

Randeep Sanghera stood in front of the green-and-blue map tacked to the wall. The map had come with the flat, and though it was big and wrinkled, and cigarette butts had once stubbed black islands into the mid-Atlantic, he'd kept it, a reminder of the world outside. He was less sure about the flowers, guilty-looking things he'd spent too long choosing at the petrol station. Get rid of them, he decided, but then heard someone was parking up outside and the thought flew out of his head.

He went down the narrow staircase, step by nervous step, straightening his cuffs, swallowing hard. He could see a shape through the mottled glass. When he opened the door Narinder Kaur stood before him, brightly etched against the night, coat unbuttoned despite the cold. So, even in England she wore a kesri. A domed deep-green one that matched her salwaar kameez. A flank of hair had come loose from under it and curled about her ear. He'd forgotten how large, how clever, her eyes were. Behind her, the taxi made a U-turn and retreated down the hill. Narinder brought her hands together underneath her chin—"Sat sri akal"—and Randeep nodded and took her suitcase and asked if she might follow him up the stairs.

He set her luggage in the middle of the room and, straightening right back up, knocked his head against the bald light bulb, the wire flexing like a snake disturbed from its tree. She was standing at the window clutching her handbag with both hands.

"It's very quiet," Randeep said.

"It's very nice. Thank you."

"You have been to Sheffield before?"

"My first time. What's the area called again?"

"Brightside," he said.

She smiled, a little, and gazed around the room. She gestured towards the cooker.

"We used to have one like that. Years ago."

Randeep looked too: a white stand-alone thing with an overhanging grill pan. The stains on the hob hadn't shifted no matter how hard he'd scrubbed. "There is a microwave, too," he said, pointing to the microwave. "And washing machine. And toaster also, and kettle and sofa-set .?.?.?carpet?.?.?." He trailed off, ridiculous to himself. "The heater works fine. It's included in the rent. I'm sorry there's no TV."

"I'm used to it." She looked to the wall. "Nice map."

"Oh. Thank you. I thought?.?.?." What did he think? "I want to visit every continent of the world." She smiled politely, as if he'd said he wanted to visit the moons of Jupiter. "It's one of my dreams."

There were only two other rooms. The bathroom was tiny, and the pipes buffalo-groaned when he forced the taps. In the centre of the greenish tub the hand-held shower lay in a perfect coil of chrome, like an alien turd.

"And this is your private room," he said, opening the second door.

She didn't step inside. There wasn't much to see: a double bed, a rail for her clothes, a few wire coat hangers. Some globs of Blu-Tack on damp, loose wallpaper. There was a long, hinged mirror straight ahead which they found themselves staring into, him standing behind her. She didn't even reach his shoulders. It was cold and he noticed her nipples showing through her tunic. Frowning, she pulled her coat shut and he averted his eyes.

"I'm sorry," he said. "It's too small. And dirty. I'll look for something else tomorrow."

"It's fine. Honestly. Thank you for finding it for me."

"Truly?" He exhaled relief. "There is a bus from the bottom of the hill that can take you into town."

"And that hill will keep me in shape."

"And this isn't an area with lots of apneh." Her lips parted, but she didn't speak. "Like you asked," he reminded her. "And the gurdwara's only a few stops away. In Burngreave. I can show you? If you like?"

Excerpted from The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota. Copyright © 2015 by Sunjeev Sahota. Excerpted by permission of Knopf. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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