Monday, 16 November 2015

The Illegal

Author: Lawrence Hill
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Canadian
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 400
Publisher: Harper Collins Canada
First Published: September 8, 2015
First Line: "Freedom State 2018 - The words came from the runner on Keita's left."

Book Description from GoodReadsKeita Ali is on the run.

Desperate to flee Zantoroland, a mountainous island that produces the fastest marathoners in the world, Keita Ali signs on with notorious marathon agent Anton Hamm, who provides him with a chance to run the Boston marathon in return for a huge cut of the winning purse.

But when Keita fails to place among the top finishers, rather than being sent back to his own country, he goes into hiding in Freedom State—a wealthy nation that has elected a government bent on deporting the refugees living within its borders in the community of AfricTown. Keita can only be safe if he keeps moving and eludes Hamm and the officials who would deport him to his own country, where he will face almost certain death.

This is the new underground. A place where tens of thousands of people deemed to be “illegal” live below the radar of the police and government officials.

As Keita surfaces from time to time to earn cash prizes by running local road races, he has to assess whether the people he meets are friends or enemies: John Falconer, a gifted student intent on making a documentary about AfricTown; Ivernia Beech, an elderly woman who is at risk of being forced into an assisted living facility; Rocco Stanton, a recreational marathoner who is the Immigration Minister; Lula DiStefano, self-declared Queen of AfricTown and Madame of the community’s infamous brothel; and Viola Hill, one of the only black reporters in the country, who is investigating the possibility of corruption linking the highest officials in Freedom State and Zantoroland.

Keita’s very existence in Freedom State is illegal. As he trains in secret, eluding capture, the stakes keep getting higher. Soon, he is running not only for his life, but his sister’s life, too.  Fast-moving and compelling, 

The Illegal addresses the fate of an undocumented refugee who struggles to survive in a nation that does not want him.

My Review:  Lawrence Hill is one of my favourite authors.  I adored his Book of Negroes (which was my very first book review post) as well as Any Known Blood.  But if it weren't for Mr Hill's name on the cover I don't think that The Illegal is the kind of book I would typically pick up.  And yet I'm so glad that I did. 

The Illegal is a tale set in the very near future in two fictional countries, Freedom State and Zantoroland, and their issues (some quite violent) surrounding refugees as well as an underlying storyline involving long distance running.  By using two fictional countries Hill allows himself some leeway with his storytelling while bringing this serious and timely issue to the forefront of people's minds. 

The book focuses on Keita, a boy who had the misfortune to be born into the lower class of people in Zantoroland, and his struggle to freedom for himself and those like him. Hill weaves his plot using multiple points of view with a cast of strong and truly memorable characters.  From feisty octogenarian Ivernia Beech, tenacious teen John Falconer, tough as nails paraplegic reporter Viola Hill as well as those in positions of power, these characters are all well drawn out and showcase the different points of view involving the refugee issue.

Hill also adds some humourous moments and dialogue between his characters and, as a fellow Canadian, I loved the repeated references to Canada - especially the reference to Tim Horton's.  You've gotta love and respect a proud Canuck!

Hill gives his readers a lot to think about regarding the issue of refugees and you really feel for Keita and all that he, and his fellow 'illegals' have gone through.  Readers will easily get behind Keita as he runs towards freedom for himself and those like him who only had the misfortune to be born in a country who didn't value their worth.  Like Keita this book is fast-paced and Keita's struggle to freedom was so compelling.

While I really enjoyed this book I can't say that I loved it as much as some of Hill's previous works but The Illegal still holds it's own.  It has a different feel to it than Hill's other books but it still has Hill's signature compelling, compassionate writing that brings serious issues to the forefront of people's consciousness.  It is a very timely and important story especially with the issues that were raised here in Canada in our recent election.  Hopefully, at the very least, this book will make people think about the horrors that many of these refugees face in their home countries as they try to make better lives for themselves and their families.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

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