The Year of the Runaways Summary & Study Guide

Sunjeev Sahota
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The Year of the Runaways Summary & Study Guide Description

The Year of the Runaways Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Quotes and a Free Quiz on The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota.

The following version of this book was used to create this study guide: Sahota, Sunjeev. The Year of the Runaways. Picador, 2015.

The novel is told in past tense. It is divided into four sections titled after the four seasons and describing the events in the characters’ lives during each season—hence the title, Year of the Runaways. The structure also includes three novella-length chapters detailing the prior lives of the characters.

Narinder is Randeep's "visa wife" an Indian British citizen who has married Randeep for one year so he can live in England on a marriage visa. Narinder lives in a flat in Sheffield, and Randeep lives nearby in a home he shares with eleven laborers, two of whom are Avtar and Tochi.

Tochi is a 'chamaar,' or member of the lowest caste in the Indian caste system. While in India, Tochi lived in poverty, struggled to find work and faced discrimination because of his caste. He worked in the state of Panjab for four years but returned home to be with his father, who had lost both of his arms in a machinery accident and was ill. Tochi earned money for his family as a rickshaw driver until a militant group brutally murdered all of his family members—his parents, brother, and pregnant sister. Tochi then worked in a brick factory for two years and earned enough money to travel to England.

The next chapter describes Avtar and Randeep’s lives in India. Avtar worked as a conductor for a train system and was in a secret relationship with Lahkpreet, Randeep's sister. Avtar's friend and fellow conductor, Harbhajan, was addicted to drugs. One day, he drove Avtar to visit Lahkpreet, and crashed the car on the way home. As a result, Avtar lost his job. Avtar had an operation to sell his kidneys and borrowed money in order to obtain a student visa in England.

Randeep was a successful college student in India until he was forced to work a weekend job and a night shift because his father was suffering from dementia and had lost his job. Randeep’s academic performance suffered and he returned home when possible to help his father, who once tried to hang himself while Randeep was on an errand. Randeep raped a classmate and was expelled. A lawyer arranged Randeep’s visa marriage to Narinder, which allowed him to immigrate to England along with Avtar.

Avtar and Randeep struggled to find employment for months before signing a contract with a group of migrant workers. Randeep moved in with Narinder so he would know the layout of the flat when the immigration inspectors met with them; this would make their marriage appear more legitimate. After they passed the inspection, Narinder made him return to the laborers’ home although he wanted to stay with her. Avtar tried to study for his examinations and worked a second job as a security guard. Tochi also found a second job working at his relatives' shop; the relatives urged him to marry a divorced woman named Ruby they knew so he could gain a marriage visa, but he refused because he had lied to his relatives about his caste and didn't want them to find out.

The next chapter described Narinder’s life. She grew up as a devout Sikh in Sheffield, England. As a teenager, she met and befriended a girl named Savraj, who worked as a prostitute. Narinder brought her food and money and the two grew close although Narinder’s brother, Tejpal, opposed the friendship. When Narinder visited India over the summer, she met Savraj’s family and learned that Savraj wanted her to marry her brother, Kavi, so that he would have a visa license. Narinder refused, but when Kavi was later killed trying to immigrate, she agreed to become a visa wife to Randeep, whom she had never met. She left her fiancée, Karam, and moved into her own apartment.

The narrative shifted back to England. Avtar went to London to take his exams so he could retain his student visa; while there, he was threatened by his creditors because he was late on payments. Tochi met Ruby but his relatives discovered that he was a chamaar and forced him to leave their home. Tochi took Avtar’s job by offering to work for less pay. Hearing rumors of raids, Tochi moved out of the group home and began inhabiting the apartment underneath Narinder’s while Avtar and Gurpreet looked for a new apartment.

Narinder met with her former fiancée, Karam, and told him she would still marry him at the end of the year. Avtar and Randeep looked for new jobs and began stealing and selling chickens, but were caught. The boys’ group home was raided, so Avtar, Randeep and Gurpreet moved into Narinder’s flat. One day, Gurpreet sexually harassed Narinder and Randeep attacked him. Fearing deportation, the two left an unconscious Gurpreet outside of the surgery door at the local hospital. The next day, an immigration inspector arrived at the flat. Avtar and Randeep went to a van that would take them to work; Avtar cut through the crowd of immigrants and managed to make it onto the van, but Randeep was left behind.

Narinder was hired as a library assistant, but Tejpal later broke into her home and forcibly took her to live with her father. Avtar worked cleaning sewers but eventually grew frustrated by his boss’s behavior and escape from the van where he was living, causing an immigration raid. Randeep lived on a bridge and was given food and a phone charger by the gurdwara. Narinder returned home from her father’s and asked Tochi for his help finding Randeep before the next immigration inspection. The two began eating dinner together frequently and grew very close, eventually having an emotional conversation about faith and discrimination. Avtar found a job cleaning a nightclub, but one night he destroyed furniture and mirrors inside it. Unable to find a new job, he reunited with Randeep and the two again moved into Narinder’s home. Avtar grew very sick and learned that his family had been attacked by his creditors because he was behind on payments; he stole all of Tochi’s savings and used the money to pay back his debts. Tochi attacked Avtar, who was hospitalized and operated on. Tochi left for a job in Spain and Randeep divorced Narinder.

In the epilogue, Narinder had never married but had cared for her father, who had suffered a stroke, for ten years. She lived with Tejpal and his wife. Randeep lived with his parents in a brick estate and worked as an assistant manager. Avtar was out of work and married to Lahkpreet. Narinder’s father died and she ate lunch with Randeep – the first time she had seen him since the divorce – then travelled to India to scatter her father’s ashes. While in India, she travelled to the shore, where Tochi worked selling souvenirs. She saw Tochi sitting with his wife and children in the audience at a play.

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