The Year of the Runaways
Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2015
‘A brilliant and beautiful novel’ Kamila Shamsie, Guardian
‘The Grapes of Wrath for the 21st century’ Washington Post
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 chaotic 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.
Sweeping between India and England, and between childhood and the present day, Sunjeev Sahota’s generous, unforgettable novel is – as with Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance – a story of dignity in the face of adversity and the ultimate triumph of the human spirit.
Told in the most intimate of ways, not theorised but deeply felt ... Sahota is a writer who knows how to turn a phrase, how to light up a scene, how to make you stay up late at night to learn what happens next. This is a novel that takes on the largest questions and still shines in the smallest details. Sahota moves some of the most urgent political questions of the day away from rhetorical posturing and contested statistics and into the realm of humanity. The Year of the Runaways is a brilliant and beautiful novel. -- Kamila Shamsie Guardian Writing with unsentimental candor, Mr. Sahota has created a cast of characters whose lives are so richly imagined that this deeply affecting novel calls out for a sequel or follow-up that might recount the next installment of their lives. New York Times An ideal antidote to a year of reductive discussions of immigration, Sunjeev Sahota's novel takes you deep into the lives of a group of Indian labourers thrown together in Sheffield. Deftly shifting in time and place, Sahota builds a portrait of the often painful circumstances that lead these men to abandon life in India for this cold, damp city, in the hope of starting afresh. This is Sahota's second novel. His first, Ours Are the Streets, was an acutely observed story of a young man's shift from ordinary British Pakistani teenager to Muslim radical. The Year of the Runaways is no less accomplished in its lyrical prose and ability to immerse the reader in the experiences of a hidden community in Britain ... It is a testament to Sahota's accomplished characterisation that he maintains sympathy with the men even after they commit crimes and take advantage of others -- Emily Dugan Independent on Sunday The Grapes of Wrath for the 21st century ... We know - from Victor Hugo, Charles Dickens and John Steinbeck - how such a monumental social novel should work. But the great marvel of this book is its absolute refusal to grasp at anything larger than the hopes and humiliations of these few marginal people. With that tight focus, the story's critique of inequality, racism and economic slavery remains entirely implicit, but no less devastating. Instead of speed, it offers precision, gathering small morsels of spoiled hope until the story's momentum feels absolutely overwhelming. Washington Post Masterly ... A poignant exploration of the fate of friendship and goodness in a frontier world that "makes you only care for yourself," ... Wryly humorous ... and moving ... Most of all it is an honest summoning of great hardship that never entirely closes the door on possibility ... "The Year of the Runaways" needs no affectations to announce its timeliness. As the sheer number of displaced peoples in Europe threatens to overwhelm any capacity for empathy, Mr. Sahota's superb novel helps to make the reality of migrants a little less unimaginable and a little more human. Wall Street Journal 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. [...] For sheer emotion and vertigo-inducing anxiety, the [closing] scene ranks with Tess putting the letter under Angel Clare's door, or Omar Sharif catching sight of Julie Christie on a moving bus in the film of Dr Zhivago. You cry because of the terribleness of it, but also because you just don't want this book to end. Sunjeev Sahota is an absolutely wonderful writer. It is amazing that this book, so rich, so absorbing, so deftly executed, should be only his second. I doubt if I'll read a better novel this year. -- Cressida Connolly Spectator This massive book, stuffed with compelling stories, rich in characters and resoundingly authentic in its detailing of life in the harsh underbelly of this country, should be compulsory reading. A magnificent achievement. Daily Mail The Year of the Runaways takes place in a parallel England, a near-invisible world that rarely intersects with our own. It is familiar territory from news reports, but only in outline. Sahota has a lot to say and he says it calmly, with great moral intelligence ... deeply impressive. Sunday Times A wonderfully evocative storyteller. Independent A sensitive and searing novel. -- Marian Ryan Mail on Sunday This is a rich, intricate, beautifully written novel, bursting and seething with energy. The Times Nothing short of an asteroid impact would have made me put the book down Irish Times The Year of the Runaways is never explicitly polemical, but is steered instead by humane morality. [...] Without flights of fancy, neither sensationalising nor preachy, its greatest asset is that it doesn't oversimplify. [...] Thoroughly believable, irresistibly humane and often funny. -- Lucy Daniel Daily Telegraph Sahota's funny, humane second novel is certainly a book for our times. Sunday Telegraph Richly authentic and teeming with incident ... totally compelling. -- John Harding, 'The year's best novels', 2015 Daily Mail Tolstoy and Steinbeck are not exaggerated comparisons for the sweep and power of Sahota's second novel about five immigrant men living in England illegally and what they went through to get there Boston Globe If you think literature is at its best when it combines the political with the personal, this is the perfect book for you. Sunjeev Sahota humanizes harrowing news headlines in the most intimate way; stories about migrant workers and so-called "Untouchables" are carefully captured with painterly details and empathy. The characters - three Indian men and a British-Indian woman they meet as they emigrate from India to England - lodged in my brain and stayed there, months after I put this book down to engage with others that I soon forgot ... an important story about duty and love, beautifully told NPR
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