The Canadian author, Lawrence Hill, is speaking in Hamilton on February 6th. To prepare for his visit, I read his newest novel, The Illegal which was published in a time where his fiction is mirroring the corruption, violence and abuse occurring in some parts of the world. The book is fast-paced, well-written and one that readers will not want to put down! It is also part of Canada Reads 2016 which will make for interesting debating!
The novel tells the story of Keita, a young man who lives in Zantoroland (a fictitious country) who loves running for pleasure and ends up depending on his talent to save himself and his older sister. His father was a journalist, investigating the corrupt government which drew the attention of country officials. The family of four experienced hard times and Keita took the offer to work with a running agent. When he arrived in Freedom State, he defected from the agent and joined the illegal immigrants befriending a rich cast of characters who help or hinder his efforts to raise money through marathon winnings.
He meets John, a gifted, young boy who has won filming equipment in an essay contest. John is investigating illegals living in Africtown, a slum-type village where illegals reside in shipping crates. He also is connected with journalist, Viola Hill, who is striving to find the “big story” despite being confined both to her job in the sports department and to a wheelchair since becoming an amputee as a young girl. He is also befriended by an elderly woman, Ivernia, who despite her own issues having her mental capacity being questioned by her son, hires him and gives him a place to live.
Keita inadvertently gets wrapped up in the underworld of Africtown and has the corrupt president seeking to capture him after John plants a USB stick in his back pack to keep it safe. Keita is running for a love of the sport, running to save a life and running to keep ahead of the corruption and violence that awaits him.
This is a novel that keeps the reader turning the pages, wondering what will happen next and worried about the safety of Keita. I really enjoyed this novel after loving The Book of Negros yet struggling to finish Blackberry Sweet Juice. I am looking forward to hearing Hill speak about the Illegal and share the story of publishing his sister’s book following her untimely death. I am hoping that there will be an opportunity for questions as I would like to know what led to the development of a fictitious country rather than writing about a country currently enveloped in corruption and despair.