Fiction Book of the Month: The Year Of The Runaways

Posted on 1st February 2016 by Sally Campbell
A subtle, compassionate tale of four 'runaways' that captures the experience of immigration in Britain

The Year of the Runaways is a subtle, human tale, told with compassion and wisdom, that captures the experience of immigration in Britain. This is a book filled with small, naturalistic details and observations, written in unadorned prose. It is a touching, sympathetic novel that never descends into sentimentality.

Sunjeev Sahota’s precise and eloquent writing has drawn comparisons to that of Hemingway, who wrote: “A writer's style should be direct and personal, his imagery rich and earthy, and his words simple and vigorous. The greatest writers have the gift of brilliant brevity.” Sahota certainly follows the Hemingway model and his ‘brilliant brevity’ is a pleasure  to read.

While the writing is clean, the events are violent and dramatic. The plot of the novel whips back and forth between India and Britain, the past and present. Tochi is an “untouchable” whose life is punctuated with severe and vicious prejudice – both in India and the UK. Avtar and Randeep are from Indian Sikh families, well-educated and middle-class back home, but events conspire to force them to leave. Their lives in Britain are fraught with anxiety; they live in abject conditions, work in chicken shops and sewers, and have no security in their lives.

Narinder’s journey is more one of disillusionment. As the novel plays out, she loses her faith. Her story is no less engaging, it is well-drawn and moving. Essentially, the book does not pull punches and instead portrays troubled and troubling lives, full of visceral details.

Words like ‘migrant’ and ‘refugee’ have become commonplace on the news, views are espoused, and politicians argue… and yet the actual human meaning of these words is far from clear to most of us.

In the end, Sahota’s novel provides a glimpse into the lives of four immigrants and shows the beating hearts at the centre of what has become a very abstract debate. 


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