From one of Granta's Best of Young British Novelists and Man Booker Prize nominee Sunjeev Sahotaa sweeping, urgent contemporary epic, set against a vast geographical and historical canvas, astonishing for its richness and texture and scope, and for the utter immersiveness of its reading experience.
Short-listed for the Man Booker Prize
The Guardian: The Best Novels of 2015
The Independent: Literary Fiction of the Year 2015
Three young men, and one unforgettable woman, come together in a journey from India to England, where they hope to begin something newto support their families; to build their futures; to show their worth; to escape the past. They have almost no idea what awaits them.
In a dilapidated shared house in Sheffield, Tarlochan, a former rickshaw driver, will say nothing about his life in Bihar. Avtar and Randeep are middle-class boys whose families are slowly sinking into financial ruin, bound together by Avtar's secret. Randeep, in turn, has a visa wife across town, whose cupboards are full of her husband's clothes in case the immigration agents surprise her with a visit.
She is Narinder, and her story is the most surprising of them all.
The Year of the Runaways unfolds over the course of one shattering year in which the destinies of these four characters become irreversibly entwined, a year in which they are forced to rely on one another in ways they never could have foreseen, and in which their hopes of breaking free of the past are decimated by the punishing realities of immigrant life.
A novel of extraordinary ambition and authority, about what it means and what it costs to make a new lifeabout the capaciousness of the human spirit, and the resurrection of tenderness and humanity in the face of unspeakable suffering.
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...
The novel starts off a tad clunky, too constrained by its narrative technique, weaving between past and present. Sahota lingers longer than feels necessary on the characters’ backstories, a little overly fascinated by the scenery. The momentum picks up in the latter two-thirds of the novel, when the four characters’ lives weave together in compulsively readable ways. Sahota effectively employs dramatic irony, where the reader is privy to both the whole canvas and smaller details of the characters’ lives, which are eloquently painted, and can therefore see train wrecks coming before they actually do.
(Reviewed by Poornima Apte).
Full Review (718 words).
In The Year Of the Runaways, most of the men are Sikhs as is Narinder Kaur, the only woman character. Sikhism (see Beyond the Book for A Moment Comes) is an integral part of Narinder's life and it is through practicing one of its central tenets, service or "seva," that she comes to be Randeep's wife.
While most religions encourage service of some kind, seva is a necessity to be a Sikh. It is one of the two main anchors of the religion, the other being "simran" or remembrance of the gurus' words. Guru Nanak, considered the supreme leader of Sikhism, strongly advocated the concept of seva and believed that a person's actions speak louder than any words. Seva is divided into three different types in Sikhism.
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