Like every boy on the mountainous island of Zantoroland, running is all Keita’s ever wanted to do. In one of the poorest nations in the world, running means respect. Running means riches-until Keita is targeted for his father’s outspoken political views and discovers he must run for his family’s survival.
He signs on with notorious marathon agent Anton Hamm, but when Keita fails to place among the top finishers in his first race, he escapes into Freedom State-a wealthy island nation that has elected a government bent on deporting the refugees living within its borders in the community of AfricTown. Keita can stay safe only if he keeps moving and eludes Hamm and the officials who would deport him to his own country, where he would 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.
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 for his sister’s life, too.
Fast moving and compelling, The Illegal casts a satirical eye on people who have turned their backs on undocumented refugees struggling to survive in a nation that does not want them. Hill’s depiction of life on the borderlands of society urges us to consider the plight of the unseen and the forgotten who live among us.
NOMINATING LIBRARY COMMENTS
In this fast paced thriller, Hill takes on some of the most pressing issues of our time, including discrimination, the movement of refugees across borders and the political fight to define who belongs and who is an ‘illegal’.
The Illegal by Lawrence Hill is an intricately plotted novel dealing with race, discrimination and belonging. A marathoner is not only running a race, but is running from the police and for his freedom. Hill raises complex moral issues dealing with wealth, inequity and the place of marginalized people in a global setting.
The Illegal is a fast-paced story told in elegant, compelling prose from a master Canadian storyteller. We are caught in the drama of Keita’s very existence – not just to run freely, but to live a free life in his own country, and then illegally in Freedom State where potential capture and deportation back to the corrupt Zantoroland is a minute by minute possibility. Filled with memorable characters, Hill paints a composite portrait of African nations and their deepest troubles. This is a fascinating read.