The Exiles by Christina Baker Kline
Seduced by her employer’s son, Evangeline, a naïve young governess in early nineteenth-century London, is discharged when her pregnancy is discovered and sent to the notorious Newgate Prison. After months in the fetid, overcrowded jail, she learns she is sentenced to “the land beyond the seas,” Van Diemen’s Land, a penal colony in Australia. Though uncertain of what awaits, Evangeline knows one thing: the child she carries will be born on the months-long voyage to this distant land.
During the journey on a repurposed slave ship, the Medea, Evangeline strikes up a friendship with Hazel, a girl little older than her former pupils who was sentenced to seven years transport for stealing a silver spoon. Canny where Evangeline is guileless, Hazel — a skilled midwife and herbalist – is soon offering home remedies to both prisoners and sailors in return for a variety of favors.
Though Australia has been home to Aboriginal people for more than 50,000 years, the British government in the 1840s considers its fledgling colony uninhabited and unsettled, and views the natives as an unpleasant nuisance. By the time the Medea arrives, many of them have been forcibly relocated, their land seized by white colonists. One of these relocated people is Mathinna, the orphaned daughter of the Chief of the Lowreenne tribe, who has been adopted by the new governor of Van Diemen’s Land.
In this gorgeous novel, Christina Baker Kline brilliantly recreates the beginnings of a new society in a beautiful and challenging land, telling the story of Australia from a fresh perspective, through the experiences of Evangeline, Hazel, and Mathinna. While life in Australia is punishing and often brutally unfair, it is also, for some, an opportunity: for redemption, for a new way of life, for unimagined freedom. Told in exquisite detail and incisive prose, The Exiles is a story of grace born from hardship, the unbreakable bonds of female friendships, and the unfettering of legacy.
By the time the rain came, Mathinna had been hiding in the bush for nearly two days.
Thank you to HarperCollins Canada for sending me an ARC of The Exiles in exchange for an honest review.
If Christina Baker Kline sounds familiar, her novel Orphan Train was wildly popular a few years ago. Having read that book along with The Exiles, Kline is now firmly an autobuy author for me.
Every once in awhile a historical fiction novel comes around that completely blows me away and has a profound impact on me. That was my experience with The Exiles. The story is told through the perspectives of three women, and I am became deeply invested in each of their stories. I know next to nothing about the history of Australian, especially in the 1800s with the British colonization of the country, so a lot of what transpires in this story both surprised and horrified me. There were moments where I had to set the book aside because it was making it me so heated. To me, that is the sign of a great novel. It is not often that a work of fiction can bring out that kind of emotion in me.
While there is a lot of heartache in this story, there is also a lot of hope and some incredibly touching moments. The bonds that are formed between these characters are something special and seeing them support one another brought tears to my eyes. This is ultimately a book about the strength of women and the power of female friendships.
It was evident that Kline did a great deal of research before writing The Exiles and she was very thoughtful and intentional when writing this story. This is one of those books that inspired me to do more research on my own. If anyone knows of any nonfiction titles about Australia’s history, I would love some recommendations!