The Exiles by Christina Baker Kline is a historical fiction novel that follows the life of three women in the nineteenth century.
Evangeline, is a naïve young governess in early nineteenth-century London. When she is seduced by her employers son and then accused of theft and attempted murder, she is fired and sent to Newgate Prison. After discovering she is with child and months of cramped quarters and fetid conditions, she is sentenced to transportation to the continent of Australia for 14 years.
During the journey, Evangeline befriends a young girl named, Hazel, who has a way with herbs and folk medicine. The two strike an unlikely friendship and face trying circumstance while on board the Medea.
Meanwhile, on Van Diemen’s Land, the colonists look down upon the Aboriginal people as savages. When the orphan daughter of one tribes chief, Mathinna, is taken by one of the colonists to be “re-educated,” she is both distraught and fascinated.
As these three tales intertwine, the story of Australia’s colonization is revealed in a new and interesting light.
I swear, about a third of the way through this book I decided which narrators chapters I liked best and literally in the next chapter she dies. Sigh. There were parts of this novel I really liked. Evangeline and Hazel’s paths taken to being thrown on the transportation ship and their subsequent bond. I like Evangeline’s naivety and quick adaptation to the life thrust upon her. I even liked Olive’s brusque but ultimately loyal manner.
Mathinna’s chapters, on the other hand, started out strong and then felt like they were overshadowed by the rest. When she does eventually make an appearance after a while, I’d almost forgotten where we’d left off. And the conclusion of her story, felt a little bit of a throw away, at the least unresolved.
I do feel like I may be short changing this one a little bit. I did learn a lot and it was fascinating to read about the process of transportation and how Van Diemen’s Land eventually becomes a land of “reformed” “criminals.”
This is a book my personal book club picked, so I will be interested to get their take on it. This one gets 3.5 stars from me.
That’s all for now!