Summary and book reviews of The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota

The Year of the Runaways

A novel

by Sunjeev Sahota

The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota
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    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Mar 2016, 496 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2017, 496 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte

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About this Book

Book Summary

From one of Granta's Best of Young British Novelists and Man Booker Prize nominee Sunjeev Sahota—a 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 new—to 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 life—about the capaciousness of the human spirit, and the resurrection of tenderness and humanity in the face of unspeakable suffering.

Chapter 1
Arrivals

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...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Woven throughout the narrative of The Year of the Runaways is a complex exploration of class and economics. Discuss the rigidity of the class system in India. How does social class prohibit or grant economic opportunities for the characters in the novel? Does social class carry the same significance in England as it does in India?
  2. What role does the gurdwara play in the community? Does it have different functions in India than it does in England? Which characters rely on it most heavily?
  3. A sense of anxiety pervades throughout The Year of the Runaways, particularly regarding the prospect of raids. Discuss how this anxiety manifests for various characters. Who is most cautious in their day-to-day life?
  4. Discuss Narinder's personal ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

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).

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Media Reviews

The New York Times, Michiko Kakutani

[P]owerful…Mr. Sahota creates an ensemble portrait of young immigrants struggling to find work, to sort out their love lives, to come to terms with duty and tradition and their own confused ambitions…Mr. Sahota…has an instinctive sense of storytelling, immersing us in the dilemmas of his characters…Writing with unsentimental candor, Mr. Sahota has created a cast of characters whose lives are so richly imagined that this deeply affecting novel calls out for a sequel or follow-up that might recount the next installment of their lives…At the same time, he's written a novel that captures the plight of many immigrants, who count themselves lucky enough to have made it to the land of their dreams, only to worry that those dreams may be slipping out of reach.

The Washington Post, Ron Charles

Granta magazine tapped Sunjeev Sahota as one of the 20 best young writers of the decade, and his new novel, "The Year of the Runaways," was shortlisted for last year's Booker Prize, and yet it's only now reaching the United States. That seems like an intolerable delay for such a celebrated book, but America's fresh spasm of xenophobia makes this devastating story about the plight of immigrants all the more relevant now...Relentless... Absorbing... The great marvel of this book is its absolute refusal to grasp at anything larger than the hopes and humiliations of these few marginal people... The story's momentum feels absolutely overwhelming... Read this novel.

Kirkus

The intertwined lives of four Indian immigrants in England reveal broad truths through heartbreaking details. It seems like a common enough premise at first.... But as Sahota (Ours Are the Streets, 2011) demonstrates in his rough-around-the-edges second novel, every immigrant story is wholly individual, no matter how familiar it feels.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Quarrelling, parting, and finding solace in one another in unexpected ways, Sahota’s characters are wonderfully drawn, and imbued with depth and feeling. Their struggles to survive will remain vividly imprinted on the reader’s mind.

Library Journal

Starred Review. Proclaimed one of Granta's Best Young British Novelists in 2013, Sahota depicts the culture, language, and mentality of Britain's Indian immigrant community from deep within. A harrowing and moving drama of life on the edge.

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Beyond the Book

Seva in Sikhism

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.

The ...

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