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The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota

Life got in the way of reading this book but at last I’ve finished the fourth and final book in the Young Writer Award 2015 shortlist. Once again, I’m blown away by the level of talent displayed in one book. 

The story tells of three very different young men, who travel from India to England in the hope of earning money and making a better life for themselves. There is surly Tochi, a former rickshaw driver who is secretive about his sad past. Avtar owes money all over the place and desperately tries to hold down work to support his family back home in India. 

A secret of his own binds him to the innocent Randeep, who has a visa-wife in a flat on the other side of town and the pressure of helping his family on his young shoulders. We also get to know the story of Narinder (Randeep’s wife) whose tale is the most surprising of all. 

Each character has such an intricate and important backstory that defines them as individuals and their interlinking stories in the present make the novel as a whole so engaging. The leading characters go through such hardships and struggles; physically, mentally and spiritually and yet the novel retains a hopeful quality that makes you want to keep reading rather than give up in despair. 

They all have histories that affect them greatly, and in their bid for better lives they really strive through harsh realities and negotiate their dreams and desires in a rollercoaster year of trials and tribulations that make for compelling reading. I was rooting for all four of the runaways throughout the whole book and you get to know the characters inside and out. By the end I was so engrossed in all of their lives and genuinely wanted to know how it all turned out for them, but I also didn’t want the book to end. 

I really enjoy reading out of my comfort zone, especially when that means getting to experience new cultures. I’ve read books set in India before and I love the vibrancy, colour and spirituality of the place as described in words. Here, of course there is also the poverty, caste system and hardships faced by the characters, but it all adds to the sense of place and I liked the movement between India and England. 

Also shortlisted The Man Booker Prize 2015, The Year of the Runaways fully deserves its place on the Young Writer Award shortlist too and I definitely do not envy the judges their choice this year. Beautifully told, though provoking and broad in scope, this is an utterly absorbing tale of love, life, faith and humanity. 

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