Book Review: The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota

What is this book about?

This book is about four people who have ended up connected and intertwined in each others lives. The book is a the story of the contemporary migrant experience especially the recent wave of the low end of middle-class Punjabi migration into places like Australia, and the UK. Two of the main character are male Sikhs – Avatar and Randeep – who have come to the United Kingdom legally – one as a student and the other as a Visa marriage. Avatar and Randeep are neighbours that are connected to each other through Avatar’s on-the-quiet girlfriend. The third character is a young man from Bihar – Tarlochan- which is a code that only is explained in the later part of the book for those who don’t understand Indian society. He has left India not only because he is the poorest, but also because he has nothing to left to stay for. He has made it to the UK illegally in trains and trucks. The fourth character – Narinder – is a woman who is born and raised in the UK, but whose life is the performance of piety and sanctity that no longer a part of modern India. Her journey to actualisation is the site where the three men fight their fights .

The book started in Sheffield, with the three men living in house with other Punjabi men working illegally, and living hard. The book moves seamlessly through the shorter chapters in the UK and longer chapters about the lives in India. The second part of the book is where the four lives intertwine as things get more fraught and desperate. They compromise their values becoming selfish and eventually stealing – whatever it took to stay alive and try to eke out a survival.

Why should I read this book?

Given the contemporary debates about migration, Sahota provides some light of the stories behind the tabloid headlines of job-stealing migrants, visa abusers, fake students, and other various ‘illegals’. The book itself is very well written. While it is an ‘Indian Book’, its not overwhelmed with descriptions or untranslated words – its a strongly underwritten books. A lot takes place in the interstices of the words, as it does in the smaller adjuncts in the story. While dealing with grimness and the actions of the worst of humanity when dealing with the powerless, as well as the actions of desperate men, Sahota lets the reader make the decisions on how they feel about it. And this makes it that much more emotional for the reader. Narinder is the proxy for so many of us with intentions of goodness, and well-meaning. She challenges us to move beyond the performance of piety and goodness. She examines her religiosity – to take her cue from its Gurus, or from its societal and institutional forms. The book is not just useful to understand the contemporary migrant experience, but for us – the privileged readers – to listen to our inner Narinder.


Migrant stories from India -things are bad – to UK – things are worse. Get worser. Everyone survives in their own way.

A photo posted by Terry Johal (@terryjohal) on

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