Book Review | The Illegal, by Lawrence Hill

Book review header imageThe IllegalI gave this book 3.5 out of 5 stars

Short Review: Timely and thought provoking, Hill’s book succeeds at highlighting the plight of refugees. However, at times it felt as though Hill was taking on too much by creating fictional lands.

Between Syrian refugee crises and unaccompanied minors, it’s hard to imagine a book more timely and relevant than Lawrence Hill’s The Illegal. Hill sets his story in the Indian Ocean, where a mere three hour flight sets apart the citizens of fictional Zantoroland from their wealthy neighbors in Freedom State. Life in Zantoroland is much like many states that toe the poverty line; governance is unstable, citizens live humbly, and dissidents go missing.

Within this context, Hill introduces the Ali family, an average nuclear family in every sense, save for father Yoyo’s political journalism. The necessity of a free press is an overarching theme in The Illegal, the lack of which leads to the death of Keita and Charity’s parents. Yoyo, it seems, was onto something– something big– soon, his body is found stripped outside Zantoroland’s infamous capitol building.

This rising action leads to Keita’s escape from Zantoroland, as he tries to build a life for himself as a professional marathon runner in Freedom State. Along the way, readers are introduced to a colorful cast of characters, each becoming vital in his quest to stay afloat in a country that doesn’t want him. It’s an intricately told story, some of which is echoed in real-life images of refugees on dangerously small boats, migrants in makeshift towns, and governments enacting refoulement policies.

The Illegal is enjoyable, if you can overlook the obvious (and at times, forced) political commentary, and the unnecessary creation an entirely new pair of countries. Also, and I rarely say this, the ending is tied up almost too well, as if it were the series finale of a television sitcom. The villain gets his due, and the good guys jog into the sunset, so to speak. I’ll avoid spoilers, because this book really is worth a read– but everything reader’s want to happen, will happen in the last 15 pages. It was almost disappointing,  considering the creativity Hill displays in the rest of the 400-paged novel.

Despite the predictable ending, The Illegal is an exhilarating read. Each of Hill’s characters are beautifully fleshed out, making them whole characters with the complexities of people he actually knows. While overwhelming at points (did we really need all that backstory about each and every character?), it emphasizes the inherent value in each individual’s story, providing the reader a better understanding of their motivations and aspirations.

Read The Illegal if you have any interest in political thrillers, international affairs, humanitarian crises, racial issues, class stratification, or…running. Read it also if you like books with multiple, intertwined points of view. If you pick up this book, you’ll be greeted warmly by characters who feel as real as you do, and who take you on a journey that will make you reflect on yourself, your politics, and your identity.

Also of note…. Apparently the Hill’s are a talented bunch. Here’s Lawrence Hill’s pop singer brother.

Disclaimer: I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

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  1. […] 8.) Viola Hill, The Illegal: I cannot properly put into words how much I dislike “the tenacious journalist” as a plot device. They’re people I hate in real life– nosey and entitled to information. It’s at odds with my understanding that the free press is an important facet of society, but I don’t care. I didn’t like Viola, and I never like characters like her. Ever. Here’s my review of The Illegal . […]


  2. […] The Illegal, by Lawrence Hill For numerous reasons, immigration is an issue close to my heart. While The Illegal could have been more subtle with its commentary, that doesn’t detract from the depth Hill brings to the subject. Check out my review for The Illegal here. […]


  3. Too bad it is too big. Often when I read big books I wish they had edited and cut down a few pages.


    1. I feel that way all the time. I’m reading a book now that could have been condensed into an article.


  4. I felt similar about this book. I enjoyed it (a lot, actually), but there was something… And, I think it was the made-up countries mostly. It just seemed kind of funny to me, even though I can understand why he did it that way. I also thought the end was abrupt and too tidy. But, like you said, it’s definitely still worth reading for all the good stuff! (And maybe Lawrence Hill is just tired of sad endings.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good point about him mayyybe being tired of sad endings. Perhaps these characters were too close to him, and he wanted them all to succeed in the end. Hill is still twice the writer I’ll ever be, and his characters in this were so vibrant, even when I didn’t like them. But Zantoroland and Freedom State? He could have tried harder, haha

      Liked by 1 person

      1. They need better names, right? Maybe he’s not good with making up names… But he could have asked someone. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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