The Illegal by Lawrence Hill was released September 2015, a particularly discomforting political moment when news of asylum seekers was clearing the front pages and debates about Canada's global responsibilities were determining a federal election. Because of its publication year, overlapping popular genres, and curious reception, The Illegal opens up a valuable conversation about the relationship between Canadian refugee fiction as popular pedagogy and contested imaginaries of the refugee figure within Canada's projections of a humanitarian national identity. The novel is a playful speculative political thriller that satirizes the hostility of the global community and the ambivalence of state humanitarianism. A number of readers and reviewers have expressed discomfort with the pairing of popular genre fiction with a refugee thematic. This article analyses the book's reception in online reviews and shared reading events, against a literary reading of the book through the lens of genre. It notes an interpretive gap and asks what cultural refugee studies can learn from this gap about humanitarian reading publics and Canadian refugee literature.
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