Man Booker Prize Shortlist 2015
Despite all the violence and abuse The Year of the Runaways is a novel about hope: of a better future for yourself and your family in a country that is said to offer more opportunities. The Year is also a novel about the hardships those looking for a better life have to endure on their way to the promised land, Great Britain in this case. Whether it is selling your kidney, loaning money from a money shark or marrying an unknown woman. The Year should be obligatory reading for all those who believe that fortune seekers should be sent home packing, in this case back to India. Two of our main characters you really do not want to return. Tochi because he has been burnt alive for belonging to an inferior caste, Avtar because the poor hardworking guy gets sacked since the boss’s son just can’t be sacked – a new job is impossible to find and his family’s future dire. Randeep is the only one who has himself to thank for enduring life as an economic castaway. He tries to rape the girl he is in love with and is expelled from university. Marriage to a a British Indian, in this way acquiring a visa and having your family follow in your steps, seems to be the most effective way to take care of his family.
The Year does away with any romantic notion I might have had of India: in this novel it is a country of corruption, poverty and violence. Not that life in Great Britain is a party for the three young man: they have to work hard – if they can find work, are underpaid, live in dire circumstances and often work 2-3 jobs. Being born a woman in Great Britain in a conservative Indian Sikh family turns out to be only slightly more desirable. Randeep’s ticket to immigration, his ‘paper’ wife Narvinder is controlled completely by her family and suffers greatly for trying to help one young man better his life.
The Year is not a comfy novel; it’s definitely not one to read early in the morning in a crowded commuter train. Too confronting, too grim, too much violence. Sahora fortunately offers some hope. In the first place the friendship between Avtar and Randeep, in the second place the sacrifice of Narvinder makes in trying to help Randeep and also her growing awareness of the fact that those who are supposed to help their countrymen refuse to do so. This provides a ray of sunshine in this otherwise grim novel. I was also glad it ended by looking ahead some 10 years. I’ll not reveal whether the three man have finally landed their dream jobs, let’s just say they are definitely better off. Sahora is a gifted author who confronts whilst writing beautifully and structuring his novel to the most effect. He made the four main characters come alive, I could easily picture the beauty and squalor of India or the bleak British industrial towns. The Year is a beautiful novel, unfortunately it does require a strong stomach.