'The Year of the Runaways', by Sunjeev Sahota - Review

By Connolly, Cressida | The Spectator, June 27, 2015 | Go to article overview

'The Year of the Runaways', by Sunjeev Sahota - Review


Connolly, Cressida, The Spectator


The Year of the Runaways Sunjeev Sahota

Picador, pp.480, £14.99, ISBN: 9781447241645

Novels of such scope and invention are all too rare; unusual, too, are those of real heart, whose characters you grow to love and truly care for. The Year of the Runaways has it all. The action spans continents, taking in a vast sweep of politics, religion and immigration; it also examines with tenderness and delicacy the ties that bind us, whether to family, friends or fellow travellers. Judges of forthcoming literary prizes need look no further.

Rose Tremain's The Road Home described the experience of an Eastern European immigrant arriving to look for work in England. The book (which is among Tremain's finest) was a powerful corrective to the notion that such migrants have an easy time of things. But the lot of the European casual worker is one of unimaginable luxury when compared with that of immigrants from India. The Year of the Runaways shows what life might be like for a group of such workers. I say 'workers', but there's the rub. The three young men at the centre of the story spend almost all their time and energy looking for employment, but their dodgy legal status, youth and isolation make theirs a largely thankless task. Without recourse to the benefit system enjoyed by their European counterparts, these characters risk starvation if they cannot find work.

The story begins as our three heroes arrive in Sheffield. In order to get there, one of the men has undertaken a sham marriage so as to qualify for citizenship; another has obtained a student visa, while the third has no papers at all. His life is further complicated by being from the Chamar caste. I hadn't known that the caste system extended beyond the Hindu faith, but here it is, among Sikhs, a source of violence, prejudice and exclusion. …

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