Title: The Exiles
Author: Christina Baker Kline
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Allison & Busby
Publication Date: 22nd October 2020
London, 1840. Evangeline, pregnant and falsely accused of stealing, has languished in Newgate prison for months. Ahead now lies the journey to Australia on a prison ship. On board, Evangeline befriends Hazel, sentenced to seven years’ transport for theft. Soon Hazel’s path will cross with an orphaned indigenous girl. Mathinna is ‘adopted’ by the new governor of Tasmania where the family treat her more like a curiosity than a child. Amid hardships and cruelties, new life will take root in stolen soil, friendships will define lives, and some will find their place in a new society in the land beyond the seas.
I’m always interested in reading historical fiction about parts of history that I haven’t previously read a great deal about and this is actually the second book this year I’ve read about this complex aspect of Australian history. The Exiles is a fascinating book, rich in detail, atmosphere and unflinching about the brutality so many people of that era were forced to endure but what makes it outstanding is the way Kline makes the reader care so deeply about the women she writes about. They are totally brought to life and feel so incredibly real. I loved this book.
The Exiles follows the stories of three very different women. Evangeline, a young, educated governess wrongly accused of theft and sentenced to ‘transportation’ to Australia, Hazel, a teenage convict Evangeline meets on the voyage to Australia who has lived a tough life of neglect and Mathinna, an orphan Indigenous girl who is ‘taken in’ by a governor and his wife. All three are brilliantly crafted characters and the way their lives intersect is consistently compelling. Their different beginnings and the events that shape their lives vary massively but what binds these three women together is the strength of their character and their refusal to let the horrible things they are subjected to defeat them. Both Evangeline and Hazel are such strong women and my empathy for them both just grew and grew as the story progressed. Mathinna’s story in particular, however, really got under my skin. As we follow her from the place she grew up and knows inside out to the home of some truly odious people who view her as a curiosity or a possession to examine and exhibit to their friends, my heart just ached for her. Her devastation and confusion at her entire existence being virtually wiped out is both moving and incredibly distressing.
The Exiles is such a genuinely affecting novel which will stick with me for a long time. It is a story almost entirely about women. It is about the strength women can often find in each other and how even in the darkest of places there is hope to be found. The power of motherhood – whether it be biological or otherwise is also a running thread throughout the book which gives The Exiles a real emotional heart. It is a totally engrossing, beautifully crafted novel that I highly recommend.
Thank you so much to Anne Cater of Random Things Blog Tours for inviting me on this tour and organising it. I kindly received a copy of the book from the publisher. My review is entirely my own honest opinion.