Lawrence Hill - "The Illegal" - Julie Jacobson - IOP

Wednesday, February 3, 2016 - 6:00pm - 7:30pm

Lawrence Hill discusses The Illegal. He will be joined in conversation by Julie Jacobson. IOP will co-sponsor the event.

At the Co-op


About the book: In The Illegal [W. W. Norton & Company; January 25, 2016; $26.95 hardcover], his first novel after the highly acclaimed, Commonwealth Award–winning Someone Knows My Name—which became The Book of Negroes miniseries—Lawrence Hill gives a face to one particular refugee in a fast-paced narrative that seems ripped from the headlines.

Like every young boy in Zantoroland, all Keita Ali has ever wanted to do is to run. Running means respect. Running means riches. And who can stop him? His country turns out the very best runners on earth. But when Keita’s family is targeted for his father’s outspoken political views, Keita must flee for his life—not only from his homeland but also in the wealthy nation of Freedom State where he seeks refuge.

In a masterful examination of the issues of statelessness and belonging, Hill creates a fictional world that bears a striking resemblance to our own place and time, tracing people on the move because of political unrest who arrive in a rich and hostile land. Using humor and satire, Hill considers the individual’s responsibility when faced with intractable governments at home or in an adopted country, introducing the reader to a Dickensian cast of characters.

Viola Hill is a black reporter trying to break out of the sports pages, challenged less by the limits of her wheelchair than by her editor’s efforts to thwart her investigations. Wise-cracking and tough, Viola is on a mission to expose the government’s corruption, no matter how dangerous her assignment.

John Falconer is a star student, a mixed-race child living two lives—one on the wrong side of the tracks in the township of Africtown, where many of the inhabitants are illegal immigrants, and one at the Clarkson Academy for the Gifted, where he has received a rare scholarship. But when John’s school documentary assignment gets overly ambitious, he finds himself in the midst of an international political scandal that might get him killed before he can even have his project graded, especially if Lula DiStefano has anything to do with it.

The unofficial and self-proclaimed Queen of Africtown, Lula DiStefano is a combination of saintly civic leader, who advocates for clean water and better services for the area’s inhabitants, and demon, who runs Africtown’s infamous brothel, frequented by businessmen and politicians from the wealthy part of town. If it’s happening in Africtown, Lula has a part in it. And if you’re in Africtown, Lula gets a part of you, too.

Stumbling into all of their stories is Ivernia Beech, an eighty-five-year-old white woman who’s had just about enough of being told what to do by her son and by the government. When the fallout from a routine car accident puts Ivernia’s independence at risk, she becomes a minor hero in the lives of Freedom State’s undocumented people.

And then there is Roger Bannister, the pseudonym that Keita Ali assumes as he enters the road races and marathons around Freedom State, as he tries to get enough money to appease the forces from his homeland that keep him on the run.

Casting its eye over race, community, and political corruption, The Illegal is a thrilling book that invites questions and discussions about the current political landscape and about our own morality, as individuals and as a state.

About the author: Lawrence Hill is the Commonwealth Award–winning author of Someone Knows My Name, republished as The Book of Negroes for the television miniseries. He lives in Hamilton, Ontario, and Woody Point, Newfoundland. He is the son of American immigrants who moved to Canada the day after they married interracially in Washington, DC, in 1953, and he has an MA degree from the Writing Seminars at The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. The Illegal is Hill’s fourth novel and his tenth book.

About the interlocutor: Julie Jacobson has worked as an attorney, an interior designer an independent bookseller. Most recently, she spent four years in a diplomatic posting in Canada.  She currently serves on the boards of the Chicago Architecture Foundation, the Stratford Festival in Ontario, and Chicago Sister Cities International.

About the co-sponsor: The nonpartisan Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago is an extracurricular program designed to ignite in young people a passion for politics and public service.

Event Location: 
Seminary Co-op Bookstore
5751 S. Woodlawn Avenue
Chicago, IL 60637