The intertwined lives of four Indian immigrants in England reveal broad truths through heartbreaking details.
It seems like a common enough premise at first: several young people from struggling families flee their native country to find a better life—or better work, at least. But as Sahota (Ours Are the Streets, 2011) demonstrates in his rough-around-the-edges second novel, every immigrant story is wholly individual, no matter how familiar it feels. Weaving back and forth through chronologies and perspectives, he traces the origin stories of Randeep, Avtar, and Tochi as they make their ways from India to Sheffield, an industrial city in the north of England, in the early 2000s. Lonely Randeep must support his “visa wife,” a religious Sikh and fellow immigrant named Narinder, who sought the role out of a sense of service, leaving an arranged engagement, a violent brother, and a disappointed father behind. When Randeep’s sense of obligation toward her turns to affection, Narinder folds further inward until she meets fiery Tochi, who belongs to the destitute Dalit (“untouchable”) caste. He squats in the apartment below hers, and they gradually connect through their shared alienation from the parts they’re supposed to be playing—but it’s an impossible pairing, of course. Piety and fury don’t get happy endings. Neither does delicate Avtar, who winds up working a series of filthy, treacherous jobs despite his student visa. England is rarely kind to this quartet, thwarting their efforts at betterment with police raids, poverty, and other trials. Sahota peppers these scenes with a riot of minor characters that can be overwhelming, but his observations of our broken social system are razor-sharp.<
When the place you’ve left is burning and the one you’re in doesn’t want you, how do you find your way home?