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Lawrence Hill giving Sarnia a second chance

Cathy Dobson Acclaimed author Lawrence Hill is returning to Sarnia on Nov. 17 to promote his new novel, The Illegal, and hopefully improve his impression of the city.
Lawrence Hill
Lawrence Hill

Cathy Dobson

Acclaimed author Lawrence Hill is returning to Sarnia on Nov. 17 to promote his new novel, The Illegal, and hopefully improve his impression of the city.

Hill’s only other visit to Sarnia was about 40 years ago when he competed as a teenager in a national track meet. He was hoping at the time to become a competitive runner.

“The steeplechase was brutally difficult and I crashed into one of the obstacles. I was knocked down and got up and managed to finish the race but I think I was dead last,” he recalled.

“So my memory of Sarnia is racing and getting injured. I haven’t been back since.”

The Book of Negroes author will headline a book reading at the Sarnia Library Auditorium at the invitation of The Book Keeper owner Susan Chamberlain. As it happens, Chamberlain and Hill go back to the 1990s when she worked at an Oakville bookstore near where he lived.

Hill’s Sarnia appearance is part of a cross-country book tour for his tenth book and fourth novel. The Illegal is about an elite marathon runner who escapes from a beleaguered African country created entirely from Hill’s imagination.

The runner finds himself hiding in another country, also invented by Hill, where the government has promised to crack down on illegal refugees.

It’s entirely coincidental that The Illegal has been released at a time when the Syrian refugee crisis is getting worldwide attention and countries like Canada are struggling to do the right thing, says Hill.

“The refugee crisis has been building profoundly for decades,” he told The Journal. It’s easy to find countries everywhere where the lack of compassion toward refugees has developed into “a fever pitch of awfulness,” he said.

“It’s been brewing for a long time in our world even though the current crisis only just began appearing on our front pages.”

Hill didn’t hesitate to get political, saying he is “delighted” Stephen Harper is no longer prime minister.

“I’m happy we have change and I’m happy we’re not bombing Syria anymore,” he said. “I’m also happy that Trudeau says he will open up the doors … to 25,000 refugees.

“I know these people need to be integrated thoughtfully but I’m glad that we appear to be on the edge of showing more generosity toward the plight of others in the world.”

Hill grew up in Don Mills, the son of former Ontario Ombudsman Daniel Hill who was also the first director of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, and brother of singer Dan Hill.

After abandoning dreams of becoming an Olympic runner he became a newspaper reporter and parliamentary bureau chief.

Unsatisfied as a journalist, he left his job at the Winnipeg Free Press in the mid-1980s and headed for Spain where he wrote “every day, all day for more than a year to see if I had it in me to be a full-time writer.”

In 2007, Hill’s third novel, The Book of Negroes, won him international recognition and a long list of awards including The Commonwealth Prize for Best Book, which earned him an audience with Queen Elizabeth II.

While Hill was writing The Illegal he was asked to work on a script for The Book of Negroes miniseries, which aired last winter.

There are already plans to make a film adaption of The Illegal.

WHAT:  An evening with Lawrence Hill, author of The Illegal. Reading, discussion, book signing.

WHEN: Tuesday, Nov. 17 at 7 p.m.

WHERE: Sarnia Library Auditorium

MORE: Tickets, $10, available at The Book Keeper. 519-337-3171.