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The Illegal

3.75  ·  Rating details ·  8,090 Ratings  ·  968 Reviews
Keita Ali is on the run.

Desperate to flee Zantoroland, a mountainous island that produces the fastest marathoners in the world, Keita Ali signs on with notorious marathon agent Anton Hamm, who provides him with a chance to run the Boston marathon in return for a huge cut of the winning purse.

But when Keita fails to place among the top finishers, rather than being sent back
Hardcover, 400 pages
Published January 25th 2016 by W. W. Norton Company (first published August 12th 2015)
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Lillian P 'Tell us' - yes, I think so. Help us to learn more about such problems & apply some of those insights to our ways of living & to ways of…more'Tell us' - yes, I think so. Help us to learn more about such problems & apply some of those insights to our ways of living & to ways of living with & through them? Yes, truly... (less)

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Oct 03, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I wanted to like this more than I did. A lot of the dialogue felt really artificial and the ending was too neat and tidy.
“The Book of Negroes” is one of my all-time favourite novels. Loved it. So when Lawrence Hill’s newest book, “The Illegal”, came out, I was super excited and couldn’t wait to dive in.

I absolutely hate to give this book only two stars, but I really didn’t enjoy it very much. I’m sooo disappointed! The story is so relevant: a young man must flee his country and becomes an illegal refugee in a neighbouring country that is under pressure from its citizens to stem the flow of refugees and send them b
Sep 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015
Lawrence Hill is a character master. Whether he's speaking about himself, people he knows, or people who exist entirely in our imaginations, you will feel like you know them; know their innermost joys and fears, their quirks, the rhythm of their hearts. This book is timely (it will definitely give you even more perspective on the international news of late), full of heart and obviously, has unforgettable characters. Basically, I'd like to be friends with Ivernia Beech. You'll see why.
Matthew Quann

Lawrence Hill, of The Book of Negroes fame, returns with The Illegal, a relatively by-the-numbers thriller that is somewhat-redeemed by a strong cast of characters. Taking place in 2018, The Illegal opens with aspiring runner Keita Ali spending his days running through the streets, trails, and tracks of his home country, the fictional Zantoroland. Keita's introduction to the reader is idyllic, his character's optimism infectious, and so it comes as a surprise when Keita
Krista Greer
Pales in comparison to Hill's previous book, and the ending was way too wrapped up. It was like a Disney story. Not saying I didnt enjoy the book, but it was a far cry from the critic's claim of "unable to put it down".
Feb 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is a novel about two fictional countries, Zantoroland and Freedom State, set in the Indian Ocean. Zantoroland is a poor country that produces a lot of great marathon runners while Freedom State is the third richest country in the world, so many people want to go there.

Keita, the main character in the book, is one of those people, a runner from Zantoroland who is an illegal in Freedom State, meaning that he is a refugee. This book is all about refugees, so with what is going on in the world
Sep 19, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: personal-library
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I hesitated to read it because I heard it was about a marathon runner and running is not a sport in which I have much interest. I’m glad I overcame my reticence because the book is about so much else and, considering the news from Europe, proves to be so timely. The book is about undocumented refugees and the uncertainty they face: will they be accepted, persecuted or deported?

Keita Ali is a refugee from the island nation of Zantoroland; he has to flee because hi
♥ Sandi ❣
Mar 27, 2016 rated it liked it
Compelling read - however not up to the standard of Hills' previous book ~ "The Book of Negroes" - aka "Someone Knows My Name".

This novel featured Keita Ali, a marathon runner, who went underground having escaped from Zantoroland - a land in turmoil - to Freedom State, which is cracking down on undocumented residents. With our current state of affairs this book has a very up to date ring.
Ali comes out of hiding to run marathon races trying to win money to ransom and bring his sister to safety.
Michelle Skinner
Jan 10, 2016 rated it did not like it
I wanted this book to end as quickly as Keita could run!
I loved The Book of Negroes and can hardly believe this was written by the same author.
The characters, even the main character, were superficial, uninteresting and predictable. The writing style seemed basic, like it was trying to be an allegory for the bigger issue of refugees but fell way short. I don't know if it was the way everything seemed to work together in Keita's favour from the time he landed in Freedom State. It seems what wou
Nov 17, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Wow! What a disappointment! The theme of The Illegal is so relevant and topical, but honestly I found the dialogue and plot development extremely immature. Hill is a much lauded, experienced writer and this book did not read like a product from that source. I tried to convince myself that Hill wanted to deliver a book with a strong message in a simple style, but some of the dialogue was painful to read. The ending felt like a Disney film.
Nov 08, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I really love Lawrence Hill and the Book of Negroes is an incredible and heartbreaking story. This book just felt mostly fake and kind of pandering. Like something a student in high school would come up with to illustrate a simple point. I really wanted to like this book but it just felt artificial and very pandering. I do very much feel for the characters and messages portrayed in here, I just couldn't get into something that felt so transparently false.
3.5 stars. First book I've read by Lawrence Hill. This was a fast-paced story, set in two made-up lands situated in the Indian Ocean. Lawrence Hill covers lots of topical things: refugees and illegal immigrants and the reasons they migrate, racism, corrupt governments, suppression of the press, hiring practices, treatment of sex workers, all conveyed through the eyes of long-distance running main character Keita Ali.
I found this story to be Dickensian, in that a set of characters kept circling a
Cori Reed
Jan 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
SO GOOD. I know Lawrence Hill is best known for The Book of Negros, which I have not read, but if The Illegal is any indication, it's well worth it.

It's a book about immigration, race, politics, and running. It's kind of dystopian, but kind of not. It's remarkably readable (I was supposed to be reading this with Sally, but I couldn't help but finish it in a week).

This is a great book. You should read it.
African Americans on the Move Book Club
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Lorna Driscoll
Maybe 3.5. I'm rather disappointed. Definitely an interesting story, but some dialogue and events seemed contrived and unrealistic. The ending was very neat and tidy.
Laurie • The Baking Bookworm
My Review: Lawrence Hill is one of my favourite authors. I adored his Book of Negroes (which was my very first book review post) as well as Any Known Blood. But if it weren't for Mr Hill's name on the cover I don't think that The Illegal is the kind of book I would typically pick up. And yet I'm so glad that I did.

The Illegal is a tale set in the very near future in two fictional countries, Freedom State and Zantoroland, and their issues (some quite violent) surrounding refugees as well as an u
May 20, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: jan-16
Love his writing!
this is a very plot-driven novel and it is definitely compelling. i found the story interesting and i was eager to turn each page to see how it was all going to play out. in many ways this felt like a thriller, and it was quite entertaining. there is a 'but', though... because it is plot-driven, the characters didn't feel fully realized. some were better than others, and certainly there were some very quirky secondary characters, but you never really got in to them too deeply. i would love to ha ...more
Barth Siemens
Jan 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Barth by: CBC Canada Reads
A-mazing! Lawrence Hill is a master of Can-Lit. And now that I've read the book, so many inclusions of the book seem obvious.

Of course, Freedom State (FS) is an island nation just off the African continent that is largely populated by white people. Of course, corrupt white bureaucrats have made secretive payments to corrupt black government officials in Zoroland, an adjacent African nation, to stop refugees from staying in FS. Of course, FS would have a token, black police Sergeant, who is attra
Nov 03, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 stars - Parts of this book were brilliant but the ending felt way too contrived. Given the situations described in this book it is hard for me to buy into a happy ending for all the good guys. Life just doesn't work that way. I enjoyed the parts about the races and I found the immigration issues to be very timely even though this takes place in an entirely fictional country. While I did find the plot engaging and I definitely wanted to keep reading, I wanted to like this more than I ultimate ...more
Sep 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction-adult
I loved this book. I had previously read a review in which the novel was described as "unputdownable" and I was initially skeptical since I have precisely no interest in marathons. However, while Keita is an elite athlete, this character is so much more. The novel is full of well-drawn characters who might have been broad stereotypes in another author's work.

Fan's of Lawrence Hill's may notice that the book is engaging in a very different way than The Book of Negroes. Both stories deal with dif
Sep 28, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I am always reluctant to give a poor review because I realize how difficult it must be to author a book. However, I only got to the middle of this book, where the main character is making dinner for an older women who he befriends and the book describes the making of the meal in detail. The main story is interesting but there are way too many side stories and the characters are very stereotyped. I enjoyed "The Book of Negros" but really did not like this book.
Elaine Conte
A bit of a disappointment after Book of Negroes which is one of my favorites. The fictional setting felt like a bit of a cop out and many of the conversations between characters felt unnatural and contrived.
Jan 08, 2016 rated it did not like it
Coffee table reading. 2-D characters. Saccharine ending. Leftist propaganda. This book was made of paper and cardboard.
Christina Vasilevski
This is a repost of a longer review found here:

Keita Ali is a gifted long-distance runner and a native of the small island of Zantoroland, in the middle of the Indian Ocean. When Zantoroland undergoes a political coup and his journalist father is tortured and killed, Keita goes on the run to the nearby prosperous island of Freedom State. As an undocumented refugee in a country reaching new heights of xenophobia, Keita needs to lay low. But that’s an optio
Mar 14, 2016 rated it did not like it
I enjoyed The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill and was intrigued by his Massey Lecture series Blood: The Stuff of Life. He gives a good interview–thoughtful, insightful and always respectful. Kind and generous, I suspect. An intelligent man.

Which is why I was so disappointed by The Illegal. The characters seem one-dimensional, the fabricated setting on the two mythical island countries, Zantoroland and Freedom State, somewhere in the Indian Ocean cobbled together, and the plot as predictable as
Penny (Literary Hoarders)
(3.5 stars. After taking more time away from it) Now that was one compelling page turner! When The Illegal was originally released I was somewhat hesitant to read it. There was just something that had me keep it on the backburner, even though it was the new Lawrence Hill novel. Then it was shortlisted for the Canada Reads 2016 competition and was the first one I was to read (although, I have already read Bone & Bread). Well, by page 7 I was completely drawn in and rooting for the main charac ...more
Debra Komar
2.5 stars.

I have tremendous respect for Lawrence Hill and the success he has achieved but this is not one of his better efforts. The dialogue is wooden, much of the characterizations ring false and the writing feels rushed. A disappointment after "Book of Negroes".
I really enjoyed the author's book: Book of Negroes. Decided to check out some of his other work.

This is a well written book about racial struggles and long distance running.


Phil Spencer
Sep 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An exceptional read with many important underlying issues. Plus there's a number of cheesy Canadian references..."Wanna grab a Tim's?"
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Hill is the author of ten books of fiction and non-fiction. In 2005, he won his first literary honour: a National Magazine Award for the article “Is Africa’s Pain Black America’s Burden?” published in The Walrus. His first two novels were Some Great Thing and Any Known Blood, and his first non-fiction work to attract national attention was the memoir Black Berry, Sweet Juice: On Being Black and Wh ...more
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“Every voter knew that the Family Party had come to power promising to deport Illegals, to manage its borders more efficiently and to ensure that people of traditional European stock weren't overrun in their own country.” 0 likes
“I ain’t need no proof of puberty at fucking six o'clock on a Wednesday morning.” 0 likes
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