Imagine having no place to live, because the country you call home wants you dead? Imagine having to always be on the run, never knowing who you can trust? And, imagine that all this is happening even though you have done nothing wrong, beyond the desire to live and be with your family?
It was an odd feeling to walk the streets of a country knowing that not a single person knew your name or a thing about you – or would notice if you lived or died.
Keita has always dreamed of running in the Olympics, but instead he is running for his life. He is living in Freedom State as an Illegal. He needs to find a way to stay hidden long enough to make some money to save what is left of his family. The only way he can think to do that is by winning some races, which unfortunately puts him in the public eye. Even though he is doing his best to keep a low profile, he can’t help but make some acquaintances along the way, some of whom prove to be on his side, and some not so much.
What I Liked:
1. The running. I’m not a runner myself, but I still loved to hear about Keita’s running as a boy, and the importance placed on running in his country. The races were fun to read about, and, since he was literally running to save his life, they were also suspenseful. I was cheering for him the whole way.
2. The characters. There are a lot more characters in this book than I was expecting. At first I wasn’t sure what to think of it (as some were more 3-dimensional than others), but soon enough I was enjoying getting a view of the story, and a few smaller connected subplots, from several different perspectives. We got to follow around a reporter, a police officer, the owner of a Bawdy house, a girl working at that Bawdy house, a boy working on a documentary, a sports agent, and a handful of Government officials.
3. Ivernia. Ivernia was the best. Who says old women can’t make a difference? I love, love that she gave out library cards to anyone who wanted them, even if they were without proper documentation. Those patrons were so grateful.
4. Lawrence Hill kept it light. Based on my only other experience with Hill (The Book of Negroes), and the subject matter, I was half expecting this book to be a real downer (which also would have been fine with me). But not everyone wants to read heavy, depressing books. Hill’s decision to keep this one light makes it appealing to a wider audience.
5. The relevance of Keita’s story in our world right now. The Book of Negroes is an historical novel, telling the story of Aminata’s journey to slavery and back out of it again. I loved it for helping me to imagine something unimaginable in history, as well as to understand the repercussions that are still going on. Keita’s story is happening right now – in time to do something about it.
What I Feel Ambivalent About:
1. To write this story, Hill made up the two countries involved, Zantoroland and Freedom State. I can understand why he did it, and it might not bother other readers at all, but the fact that they were made up made the book seem less serious, or less real (to me). I had to keep reminding myself that this is happening to real people in real countries. Making his countries up, though, did allow him to create them the way he wanted. He was able to work them into the story he wanted to tell.
2. The end of the story might have come together too nicely/conveniently for some readers, even though this reader was okay with it. I think it’s good to give us some hope, keeping in mind that there are so many stories in the real world without any.
Now I wonder what Lawrence Hill is going to tackle next? In the meantime, I still have some of his previous books on my to-read list. I’m especially interested in reading Any Known Blood and Black Berry, Sweet Juice.