What does it feel like to be a refugee in a foreign country? What does it mean to belong? The Illegal explores these questions within the framework of a thrilling political mystery.
Keita Ali is a world-class marathon runner in the fictional state of Zantoroland, which feels like it’s modeled after a troubled African nation. When his father is killed by the government because of his journalistic work, Keita is forced to flee to prosperous, white-controlled Freedom State, another fictional country where the ruling party has recently been elected on an anti-immigrant platform. Keita finds himself as one of the “Illegals,” those living as undocumented immigrants, and soon learns that his sister has been kidnapped for ransom back in his homeland. Keita’s only way to earn money for her release is to win marathons—so he has to find a place to live and a way to eat while training for races that offer big payouts. As Keita makes his way in Freedom State, he becomes an unwitting pawn in a web of corruption that leads to the highest offices of government.
Hill does a masterful job of creating interesting, three-dimensional characters, and there are a lot of them in this book. There are young, old, black, white, some well-intentioned, some downright evil, and each has their own specific agenda. As their paths eventually cross, the various threads of the story slowly tie together into an ending that holds a bit of a surprise.
The Illegal is a timely read, as refugee crises continue to show up in news headlines. Under the layers of plot and suspense is a morality tale about race, freedom, and tolerance. The lessons in the book are sometimes subtle, sometimes blatant, but always relevant. This is a page-turner with depth.