You probably know Lawrence Hill best from the wildly successful Book of Negroes.
It won the 2007 Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize, and the 2008 Commonwealth Writers' Prize for best book overall among many others. His most recent book, The Illegal (2015) takes us on a new path but with the same surfacing of compelling issues.
What if running was the one thing you could do to save your life and the life and memory of those you love? This is the fate faced by Hill’s protagonist Keita Ali.
“...a stranger in a strange land whose only transgression was to exist in a place where his presence was illegal...”
The story takes place not too far in the future of 2018. Keita Ali is a citizen in the fictional country of Zantoroland located in the Indian Ocean. Kieta is the son of a famous journalist who is an outspoken critic of the government. The fast moving tale gets the reader involved quickly when events lead to Keita sister Charity leaving for university, her subsequent kidnapping and Keita’s father dying by the hands of the brutal Zantoroland government. Keita has few options but to flee.
Recognized as an elite runner, Keita signs a contract with a shady marathon agent who he escapes from once reaching the nearby country of Freedom State. Freedom State while wealthy is no paradise; they are struggling with the influx of refugees that settle in a community called AfricTown. With the recently elected right wing government who came to power on a platform of deporting all refugees...the illegals.
Keita’s only skill is that of a marathoner and he plans to use this skill to save himself and free his kidnapped sister. Through his many races and the people he meets such as the persistent teen John Falconer, the astute Ivernia Beech and the unstoppable reporter Viola Hill, Keita’s belief in hope, love, truth, commitment and friendship are reaffirmed.
The Illegal comes at a time when we as a society are struggling with the very issues presented in its pages such as discrimination, refugees,the gap between rich and the poor and corrupt governments to name just a few. Like real life there are no easy answers but the story of The Illegal allows the reader to build empathy and understanding for Keita and many of the characters we meet as he strives to find his community and establish a life.
Definitely worth a read! Blackstarline Readers gives The Illegal 4 out of 5 stars!
Written by Ella Neverson