The plot centres around Keita Ali, the son of a journalist who is executed for stirring the political pot in his (fictional) home country of Zantoroland. In order to avoid execution, Keita flees to neighbouring Freedom State, a country notorious for turning back the boats crossing the ocean from Zantoroland and for deporting illegal immigrants. Meanwhile, Keita's sister, Charity, who had been studying at Harvard, has been arrested and is in prison, awaiting a $15,000 bribe from Keita. As an undocumented resident of Freedom State who is unable to work, Keita's only option is to enter marathons, half-marathons, and road races in attempt to raise the ransom money.
At times, this book felt heavy-handed in driving home the political and social message; but in the end it was the story of people. The characters were what made the story come alive. I read Hill's previous book, Book of Negroes, back in 2008, and loved it mostly for the characters that seemed to jump off the page at me. This book did the same.
If I had one complaint about The Illegal, it would be about the pacing. The first 2/3 of the book seemed to drag - I remember being past the half-way point, wondering when the set-up would be done and the actual plot begin. Then all of the various plot lines seemed to resolve neatly in the last couple of chapters. Despite the uneven pacing, I was never tempted to stop reading. I was too invested in the characters and what would happen to them.
(Book 2 of 13 in the Canadian Book Challenge at The Book Mine Set)