STAR RATING: ★★★★☆
BLURB: ‘The Year of the Runaways tells of the bold dreams and daily struggles of an unlikely family thrown together by circumstance. 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..’ (Goodreads.com)
This book is both magical in its writing as it is important in it’s subject. I think what makes it so particularly special is the fact that it touches upon a subject often ignored, and certainly not often written about. It focuses on the plight of Indian immigrant (often illegal) workers, coming to the UK to find work in the hopes that they can start a new life for their families back home. It’s something everyone (especially here in the UK) is very aware of, but not something often immortalized in novels, rather just plastered in news articles, demonising the people that are given a story and a life in this novel.
Each of his four main characters have a different backstory to how they came to the UK, and each their own struggle once they are there. The end result is that it covers aspects of both Indian and British culture, mixing them together so that the book is completely unique. Where else are you going to find long descriptions of bustling Indian communities and stories of grim Sheffield in the same book?
You have to be on your toes whilst reading this book; it doesn’t make anything easy for you and leaves much to be inferred by the reader. As it skips between four main characters, I often found it difficult to remember which character had which story, and with the book’s length (about 470 pages), you soon get used to it. That being said, I did have to reread a couple of passages, and the fact that Sahota rarely describes the physical appearance of his characters also allows your imagination to do some of the work. His writing is completely captivating, and even though I didn’t start to enjoy the plot immediately, his words just carried me through the pages, as if I didn’t have a choice. (until all the great plot twists start setting in, then I became addicted) This book basically reads itself and in the words of Salman Rushdie, ‘All you can do is surrender, happily, to its power’.