Goodreads blurb: Three young men from very different backgrounds come together in a journey from India to England, where they hope to begin something new. To support their families, where they can, to build their future, to show their worth, to escape the past. They have almost no idea of what awaits them.
In a dilapidated shared house in Sheffield, Tarlochan, a former rickshaw driver, will say nothing about his life in Bihar. Avtar has a secret that binds him to the unpredictable Randeep. Randeep, in turn, has a visa-wife in a flat on the other side of town, whose cupboards are full of her husband’s clothes, in case the immigration men surprise her with a visit.
She is Narinder, and her story is the most surprising of them all.
Utterly absorbing and beautiful in its scope, The Year of the Runaways is written with compassion and touched by grace. As Tochi, Avtar, Randeep and Narinder negotiate their dreams, desires and shocking realities, as their histories continue to pull at them, as the seasons pass, what emerges is a novel of overwhelming humanity: one which asks how far we can decide our own course in life, and what we should do for love, for faith, and for family.
With The Year of the Runaways author Sunjeev Sahota takes us on a journey of three men with starkly different personalities but more or less the same situation in life, and he adds the sub-text of Narinder, who steps into the melee hoping to right a ‘wrong’ done by her in the past and ends up taking on more than she bargained for.
While Tarlochan (Tochi) is in London as a last resort and is trying to get away from his troubled past, Randeep and Avtar are forced to come to London due to various financial and familial difficulties. While each of the three need the money quite desperately, their levels of desperation and their motives behind earning the money are vastly different. However, fate puts them on intersecting trajectories and this makes for the main overarching narrative plot of the book itself.
More than the situations they find themselves in, how the author has dealt with the characters themselves, their motivations, their insecurities, their personalities, their interactions with others and the world around them, these make up for the bulk of the book which at times meanders along quite slowly but doesn’t quite get boring at any point in time.
In this mix, Narinder Kaur finds herself making choices which although made with the best of intentions end up turning out to be revelations in themselves. In her altruistic attempts to ‘do good’, she ends up learning more about herself, her beliefs and the world around her more than she bargained for. Her story and her character arc make for, in my opinion, the strongest and most interesting character in the book.
At the end of the year, does all end well for the ‘runaways’, do they end up truly ‘running away’ is the interesting journey that the book takes us through. This book truly deserves its spot in the Man Booker Longlist for the year, no two ways about that.
A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publishers in return for a honest and unbiased review of the same.