I guess I’ve just had my fill of books about India and immigration and so on and this seemed to be a rehash of 3 or 4 different stories. I know it was short-listed for the Man Booker Award but imo (and I read all the long-listed books in 2015 except one) it’s not up to standard in terms of originality.
The Year of the Runaways
by Sunjeev Sahota
2015 / 485 pages (Kindle)
rating 7.5 / contemp India
Three young men from different situations in India feel they need to immigrate to England. It’s all about the money though. Randeep comes to help his family after his father has a stroke. Once there, thanks to loans, he gets a “visa marriage” and looks for work. Avtar sells a kidney to get the money for passage and comes to make more money so he can marry his girlfriend. He goes to college in order to obtain a temporary visa and he looks for work. And Tochi, from the caste of “untouchables,” immigrates because he has nowhere else to go – no family – horrendous background – and he looks for work.
Avtar and Randeep are neighbors from the same neighborhood in India and they end up as roommates in basic, minimum slum-lord type of migrant worker housing in Sheffield, but there is still food to buy and loans to repay and finally money to send home – maybe. Tochi arrives and there are others in the house so the situation basically turns into a contest of survival of the fittest where suspicion is everywhere and thievery and violence is not out of the question. Always – where to find work, where to get money.
Another character is Narindar, a British Sikh woman whose father has recently passed away. Her brother and mother expect her to marry the young man who was picked out for her. But she is very devout wants a year to do the kind deed of marrying Randeep for a couple years so he can get his “marriage visa.” They are hounded by an investigator who suspects something fishy.
Sahota weaves the stories of the characters and settings throughout the book and as they take place over the course of a year plus back-stories. I was never confused between the times in India or the times in England. Life was very difficult, almost unsurvivable, in both places although it did seem as though England might have, possibly, a glimmer of more hope.
A rather important theme is how the basic cultural traditions, caste, food, religion, and women’s place, of India follow the immigrants to their new land. They never really assimilate at all but they really never have the opportunity. Rather they use what they need to use to survive at the fringes of society.
If I weren’t so tired of books about India I’m sure I would have given this a higher rating – the writing is nice and the structure is interesting. The character development is well balanced (I did enjoy the book a lot more after Narindar was featured.)