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Lawrence Hill’s The Illegal Inspired by Refugee Survival Stories

Lawrence Hill’s <I>The Illegal</I> Inspired by Refugee Survival Stories

Lawrence Hill has been working on the followup to his bestselling The Book of Negroes for years, but his latest novel – titled The Illegal and centred on the struggles of refugees – couldn’t be debuting at a more timely moment.

Released in early September, The Illegal was inspired by survival stories of undocumented refugees around the world.

It comes as the world’s attention is locked on the wave of refugees and migrants from Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea and other countries in crisis seek asylum and face obstacles in western and northern Europe.

Hill’s novel centres on a young marathon runner named Keita Ali, who hails from a repressive, fictional African country and struggles to make a life and avoid being deported from his new home.

“I think we have trouble imagining the lives of refugees and stateless people,” Hill told CBC News.

“With refugees, you see all these pictures of these people who are displaced or on the move… It’s important to remember that each of these people has a story: has a mother and a father and perhaps children, lovers, aptitudes and skills. There are doctors, engineers and lawyers in those groups of displaced people, as well as people of every other economic class.”

Canada must do its part and step up to the plate internationally, he added.

“We can open up our doors much more broadly. We can process people much more quickly when we do decide to take them and we can make their lives much more habitable and decent and welcome them when they come to Canada,” Hill said.

“We have a history of treating refugees quite meanly.”

Published in 2007, Hill’s The Book of Negroes became an international blockbuster and won a host of accolades, including the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and CBC’s Canada Reads. It was also adapted into a miniseries that was an international CBC-TV co-production.

Though just released, The Illegal is already being prepped for television by the same creative team.

CBC.CA/September, 2015