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