submitted by Kit Darling and the members of the Bay Area Book Club

In March we read The Illegal (HarperCollins, 2015) by Lawrence Hill. Winner of Canada Reads 2016

This expansive and engaging tale allows Hill to address the contemporary issue of refugees fleeing persecution, starvation and death to a wealthy country which they hope will give them refuge, security and a future. The “Illegal” is Keita Ali, a young runner from Zantoroland, an imagined country in the Indian Ocean whose population is almost exclusively black. Just to the north, the island of Freedom State is primarily white and anti black refugees. Many of the black citizens and black “illegals” live in Africtown, a complex of shipping containers/homes overseen by a black madam who is both saint and sinner. The current government of Zantoroland suppresses any opposition brutally, imprisoning and murdering dissidents. They have an agreement with the government of Freedom State to take back a certain number of refugees who they then frequently execute. After Keita’s mother dies, his sister wins a scholarship to Harvard and his journalist father is imprisoned, executed and left by the town fountain for Keita to retrieve, Keita agrees to a deal with an agent who will enrol him in marathons and keep a large percentage of his winnings. Ultimately Keita breaks free from the agent, and hides out in Freedom State, from the agent and the authorities. He enters races under an alias and wins many. He meets and helps/is helped by a motley cast of characters, a young black journalist, who relies on a wheelchair and is gay, a young boy who lives in ‘Africtown’, is extremely bright and a wanna-be video documentarian, a black female cop, and an old lady who is fighting her son to keep her independence and her money and who gives Keita shelter at one point. There is a happy ending after many trials and tribulations but you’ll have to read the book yourself to find out.

The book reminded many of us of the current issues of the day, the plight of economic refugees and those fleeing persecution. Racism, misogyny, political corruption, mistreatment of elders all add to the depth and textures of this book. A recommended read!

Kit Darling

Note: The bookmobile stops at Bennetto Recreation Centre, Thursdays from 4:30 to 5:00. There is no access to the bookmobile to browse, but staff are on hand for contactless returns and holds pickup.

Have you read any of our recommendations? Liked any of the same books we talked about or disagreed totally? Let us know at .