It is into this rich mix that the Canadian author Lawrence Hill has released his new novel, “The Illegal.” Mindful, perhaps, that current events have a propensity to outstrip fiction, he has chosen to set the story in the near future (2018) and invent two countries to play the roles of the haves and have-nots: tiny Zantoroland and Freedom State, the “third-richest nation in the world.” Keita Ali, the illegal of the title, flees Zantoroland after his father, a renowned journalist, is killed for his anti-government views. Keita is a marathon runner. And he’s black. In the prologue he takes part in a race in Freedom State, and Hill gives us, in short, the basic message of the book. A white runner tells Keita to “Go home,” and in case the message hasn’t been received, he repeats it slowly, with an expletive. For further emphasis, the white runner then punches Keita in the stomach. Keita is, Hill tells us, “a stranger in a strange land whose only transgression was to exist in a place where his presence was illegal.” This is the novel in a nutshell. It doesn’t get any subtler than that.There are, however, nearly another 400 pages to go, and Hill works hard to fill them. …Viola, a journalist with a Freedom State newspaper, happens across an anti-migrant rally at a pier where a boatload of “illegals” are disembarking. Viola is, in her own word, “blagaybulled.” Black, gay and disabled, and therefore a symbol to set against the protesters: members of an organization called, aptly if not terribly inventively, SIB — Send Illegals Back. (“Send ’Em Back,” their placards helpfully explain.) Police officers beat the unfortunate boat people “with billy clubs.” …Keita is in hiding because he has no papers. When he enters his first race he therefore uses an alias. Unfortunately, he chooses “Roger Bannister,” which draws immediate attention. (He has a “d’oh!” moment, worthy of Homer Simpson, when he realizes his error: “Just a few weeks in the country and he’d already been photographed and named in a newspaper.”) … Hill piles on the dangers, and such an accumulation fails to heighten the tension but, rather, undercuts it. Remember the scene in the movie “The Naked Gun,” in which O.J. Simpson’s character is shot by hoodlums, staggers around, burns himself on a stove, brushes his sleeve on wet paint (“Oh, no!”), then traps his fingers in a window?
Here’s a different but similar scene involving Detective Nordberg:
And here’s the scene in the book review:
[Comment at Unz.com]