The Illegal by Lawrence Hill

4/5 stars.
Read from February 09 to 17, 2016.
ebook, 335 pages.

I judged this book by its cover initially and wasn’t overly keen to read it but as soon as I found out that large portion of the book was about running, my attitude quickly changed.

I’m actually speeding along quite well through the Canada Reads this year! To be fair, the novels have been really good so far and I’ve also had the time. My schedule has changed substantially now though but the goal is to continue with this pace.

Keita Ali is the son of a prominent journalist who lives in the war torn and impoverished nation of Zantoroland. While he dreams of becoming a famous marathon runner, his sister Charity dreams of higher education and being more like their father. Charity is eventually accepted into Harvard and while Keita is getting offers to become an elite runner he cannot leave their father, especially not after their corrupt government has tortured him leaving him cripple and frail. Tensions in the country are escalating and Keita knows that if they don’t leave the country soon, they will perish. When his father is captured again, Keita heeds his father’s advice and agrees to leave the country with an running agent named Anton, who can get Keita into the country of Freedom State. Unfortunately, Anton is a scam artist with an anger management issue so Keita quickly decides he must part ways with this man as soon as possible. Freedom State is not kind to illegal immigrants, especially those from Zantoroland due to their extensive histories, but Keita seems to have an impact on all of the people he meets, all of which, have their own troubles and stories but are going to play an essential part in Keita’s as well.

Shortly after arriving, Keita finds he cannot get a hold of his sister and that Anton is out for blood for abandoning him. He is running as many races as he can to get money to get by but he is plagued by a mysterious medical issue and he is finding it harder and harder to keep a low profile. Keita knows that he can be deported at any time, which would certainly mean death for him. Through Keita’s journey you’re taken through the most impoverished part of Freedom State, called AfriTown, where all the illegals are living out of storage containers with no amenities. As more people learn of Keita’s successes, he inadvertently gets the attention of the Freedom State government, which has its own state of corruption. While the people that Keita meets are hoping to create change within Freedom State, Keita must struggle and run for his life, as well as that of his sister’s.

While the countries of Freedom State and Zantoroland are completely made up, it’s clear that they reflect real places with similar issues. This novel discusses some of the most pressing issues facing the world right now with the movement of refugees from the middle east and the political struggles it’s causing.

As a runner, there was a massive appeal for me with this book, as I could relate to all of the racing details that author included as well as Keita’s love for the sport. Even with that, the plot work is impressive and that was what kept me from putting this book down. Each character that Keita meets gets to narrate a small portion of their own story and the author did an amazing job of interweaving all of the character’s plots together. The book is seamless and the characters are quick to draw you in.

The book is also a great feel-good read as the characters, that you quickly become heavily invested in, all get redemption in the end. Sadly, that is not the case for many real-life refugees of today. This novel is a real eye-opener for those that don’t understand the issues facing some of today’s refugees and the importance of human-kindness and open doors during such trying times.

This was a phenomenal read and is currently at the top of my list for this year’s Canada Reads. This book is the epitome of starting over. New country, no family and suffering that many cannot not even fathom, yet coming out against all odds all because of kindness.  I would recommend this book to anyone. While the book may be fictional, the suffering, corruption and struggles that the refugees of today face, is not. Hill has written a potent, inciting and exciting read that is extremely relevant and morally thought provoking.

Canada Reads 2016 Shortlist

Apologies for the delayed post! Still adjusting to a bit a of a routine out here in Hong Kong. Even though I’m halfway around the world, I am happy to say that I am still going to have a bash at getting through this years Canada Reads 2016 shortlist! Even though it may affect my bank account this time around as I won’t be able to get any of these books out at the library here (I checked).

The theme this year is all about “starting over” and the panelists chose books that that they felt best represented  “the trials and tribulations of making a new start in life.”

  • Birdie by Tracey Lindberg
  • Bone and Bread by Saleema Nawaz
  • The Hero’s Walk by Anita Rau Radami
  • The Illegal by Lawrence Hill
  • Minster Without Portfolio by Michael Winter

The debate takes place March 21-24th! I should have most, if not all five of the books read by then and will do my best to have the reviews up as well.

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