TITLE : The Exiles
AUTHOR : Christina Baker Kline
GENRE : Historical Fiction, Cultural Fiction, Women’s Fiction, Literary Fiction
FR RATING : ⭐⭐⭐⭐( 4 – 4.5 Stars)
DATE OF PUBLISHING : 22 Oct 2020
DISCLAIMER : Thank you, Netgalley and Allison & Busby for providing me with an ARC of this book. I am leaving this review voluntarily.
The Exiles by Christina Baker Kline is a well-researched historical fiction set in 19th century Australia. The book tells us the story of three women, Evangeline, Hazel, and Mathinna. Evangeline and Hazel are the two English convicts who get sentenced to Van Diemen’s Land. The Prisoners from Newgate Prison got often transported to the Island, where they had to complete the rest of their sentences. Mathinna is the Aboriginal orphan who gets uprooted from her life to live with the governor and his wife. The book is vividly descriptive and meticulously researched, giving the readers a distinct impression of the hardships and oppression faced each of these women during their time in England and Australia.
The novel does a phenomenal job of bringing together the forgotten British and Australian history, featuring the brutal British colonization of Australia. It also sheds light on the appalling treatment of convict women both at Newgate Prison and at the prison in Australia. Under the guise of relocating and educating the Aboriginal people of Tasmania, they get uprooted from their land, and their culture erased. The audacity of the British Empire is disturbing. The way the officials and settlers talk about the indigenous people and the harsh treatment they face from them is unsettling, to say the least. I had a hard time getting through the chapters that featured these events. Every time the white people referred to the indigenous people as animals or barbaric or uncivilized, I had to take a deep breath before I moved on from it.
The pacing was perfect. The writing is very immersive and engaging. I also loved the writing style and appreciated how well-researched the novel was. It was a mesmerizing read with heart-wrenching tragedies befalling compelling characters.
As I mentioned before, the characters and the horrors each of them face will grip you from the very beginning with the readers rooting for them. With the system rigged against women, Evangeline and Hazel and several others similar to them face harsh punishments without a fair trial. The life that awaits them at the prison and on the ship is cruel and terrible. Even with the odds stacked against them, they survive and find hope in the most unexpected places. With the relationships and connections, they form at the prison, and then later on the ship, they help each other out and look out for one another. Mathinna’s life story is heartbreaking. I could see her hope, her dreams, and her acceptance of the life fate handed her. It was hard to read about the cruelties the indigenous people had to face from the English people. Not only that, but they also were taken from their homes, through the treachery of promised homelands. It’s ironic how the White people who saw the Aboriginal people as barbarians and uncivilized were the ones who had no mercy or integrity in them. I wished Mathinna’s story was resolved in a better way rather than leaving it hanging. She deserved to have her story told. We as readers, need to learn about the atrocities that were committed to these people. They had all the right to live on their land freely without interference from other people. To strip them of their birthright, and their integrity is outrageous. The Exiles is also the story of sisterhood, friendships, and endurance.
The horrors the female convicts had to face, the inhabitable living situations, the unfairness of the system that persecuted them, the abuse and injustice doled out by the upper echelons of the society, and finally, the failed justice system are all realistically depicted in this remarkably penned novel. The strength and courage each of the characters possess is impressive. The remarkable show of mercy, kindness, and the best of humanity from people around them help us to hold out hope even amid all the gut-wrenching misery and turmoil.
The Exiles is a literary gem that will captivate you with the realistic historical representation of the Colonization of Australia. It brings forward a story of hope, mercy, and rebirth of society from the ashes of ruins. This magnificently crafted novel will tug at your heartstrings and simultaneously leave a lasting impression in the reader’s minds. I gave this book 4-4.5 stars. The reason the book didn’t make it to 5 stars is because of the conclusion of Mathinna’s story. Overall, if you are looking for a remarkably written historically accurate fiction portraying the conditions of convict women and Aboriginal people, then do pick this up. Even if you don’t love historical fiction books, I would still recommend this book. It is an outstanding book that needs to be widely read and talked about. A huge thank you to the author for bringing this masterpiece to us readers.
The author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Orphan Train returns with an ambitious, emotionally resonant historical novel that captures the hardship, oppression, opportunity and hope of a trio of women’s lives—two English convicts and an orphaned Aboriginal girl — in nineteenth-century Australia.
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.