The Illegal by Lawrence Hill

A quick review. I was pretty excited to hear that Lawrence Hill was coming again to Calgary and some time after registering to attend his talk at the John Dutton Theater,  his new book, The Illegal, won the Canada Reads competition on CBC radio.  I was pretty stoked and headed out to the book shop to pick up my hard cover and get it read before his visit.

For the record, I have been a #1 fan of Lawrence Hill’s writing.  His Book of Negroes and Any Known Blood shook me to my core.  While I haven’t read Blood: The Stuff of Life, I have heard Mr. Hill address this title in a few different book talks and have really really enjoyed those as well.


From Goodreads…a brief summary.

Lawrence Hill spellbound readers with Someone Knows My Name(made into the television mini-series, The Book of Negroes), hailed as “transporting” (Entertainment Weekly) and “completely engrossing” (Washington Post). The Illegal is the gripping story of Keita Ali, a refugee—like the many in today’s headlines—compelled to leave his homeland.

All Keita has ever wanted to do is to run. Running means respect and wealth at home. His native Zantoroland, a fictionalized country whose tyrants are eerily familiar, turns out the fastest marathoners on earth. But after his journalist father is killed for his outspoken political views, Keita must flee to the wealthy nation of Freedom State—a country engaged in a crackdown on all undocumented people.

There, Keita becomes a part of the new underground. He learns what it means to live as an illegal: surfacing to earn cash prizes by running local races and assessing whether the people he meets will be kind or turn him in. As the authorities seek to arrest Keita, he strives to elude capture and ransom his sister, who has been kidnapped.

Set in an imagined country bearing a striking resemblance to our own, this tension-filled novel casts its eye on race, human potential, and what it means to belong.

The first problem, for me, came with the ‘imagined’ setting.  I think that I would have found the story more compelling had this narrative been more closely linked to a geographical truth.  This IS a very contemporary issue and is global in nature, but I would have felt the story to be more honest without the invention of ‘place’.

The characters were believable and interesting, but I felt there were too many of them telling this particular story.  I would have appreciated a more clear perspective on this writing.

For me, the most disappointing aspect of the book was its ending.  I felt that it came quickly and was resolved too perfectly.

Goodreads feedback seemed to be in line with what I was thinking…for me, this one was a disappointment.  In the end, every one should meet this author…a smart and entertaining man who is very sincere in his craft and is inspiring for his process.

Lawrence Hill

The Illegal

Thanks to the Calgary Public Library for hosting a wonderful event!  I’m always so proud of the work that the library does to promote literacy and engagement.  I’d like to see a return to the One Book: One Calgary events that we’ve enjoyed in the past.  It was really lovely that refreshing beverages and snacks were served!  Such amazing hospitality.  It was also nice to be together with my dear Ya Yas in culture.  A great night!  Pick up The Illegal, read it and let me know your thoughts.


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