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The Illegal: A Novel by Lawrence Hill

LawrenceHillThe Illegal begins in 2018, not the far future, but it feels like a very different time.

Keita Ali is a black marathon runner.  He wants to use his talent at running to escape a difficult life and fate.  Keita’s homeland is the fictional island country of Zantoroland in the Indian Ocean.  The country is clearly corrupt and dangerous for its citizens.  As a child, Keita thrives, with loving parents.  But, his mother, untreated for an illness, dies, and his father, a political journalist exposing corruption, is killed.  Keita’s sister, through her academic skills, is able to attend  an American university, but later she is pulled back into the difficulties of her homeland, and Keita must save her as well as himself. 

People from Zantoroland often escape to the nearby country of Freedom State, the world’s third richest nation.  They enter illegally, as does Keita.  Freedom State is, on the surface, a different world, and one where people want to be.  For the white residents, there is wealth, seeming freedom, and good government.  Many of the country’s poor and illegals, like Keita, inhabit the community of AfricTown.  People in this ghetto live in shipping containers, with no running water, little food and, often, no work. 

Many issues, characters, and twists and turns in plot and action, make for a complex and complicated telling. The Illegal is, first of all, a fast-paced thrilling read.  It is also a book of issues - of race, discrimination, politics, immigration, poverty and wealth in these fictional lands, echoing the world in which we live. It is a novel of contrasting places that are not as different as they first seem. There are rich and privileged, poor and needy, in both lands.  There is also goodness, as well as corruption, in both.  Characters include the rich and elderly Ivernia, who helps Keita; John, a teenage video-journalist; police both violent and helpful (Sgt. Candace Freixa, another marathoner, befriends Keita); running entrepreneurs and coaches; politicians and government officials; Lula, the woman who runs AfricTown and its brothel and a lot more in Freedom State.  To detail the plot would lead to too many spoilers. 

Canadian Lawrence Hill is the author of Someone Knows My Name, published in Canada as The Book of Negroes and made into a TV miniseries of that name.

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