Kristin recently enjoyed The Exiles by Christina Baker Kline, a sweeping historical novel set during the early days of Australia's settlement by the English. Here is her review:
The author of Orphan Train returns with a riveting tale that will keep you breathlessly flipping through the pages of a story that captures the hardship and resilience of a trio of women’s lives in nineteenth-century Australia. Christina Baker Kline’s monumental eighth novel opens on Flinders Island, Australia, where an 8-year-old orphan named Mathinna is whisked away from her native tribe on the whim of a visiting dignitary, who views taking in the child as an entertaining souvenir from her travels. Thus, the daughter of the Chief of the Lowreene tribe is forced to leave her homeland with only her pet possum and a necklace of shells made by her mother.
Meanwhile across the ocean, 21-year-old Evangeline, also recently orphaned, is fired from her job in London and sent to Newgate Prison when her employers accuse her of stealing. Even though Evangeline is innocent, she has no one to vouch for her and ends up being sentenced to “fourteen years transportation to the land beyond the seas.” Her time at the prison and on board the Medea, the ship that transports convicts to Australia, is filled with anguish due to the horrid conditions and inhumane treatment. It is under these terrible circumstances that Evangeline meets and strikes up a friendship with Hazel, a teenage girl who was sentenced to seven years transport for stealing only one silver spoon. Hazel may be young, but she is also a skilled midwife and herbalist. Her resourcefulness eventually leads to her offering home remedies to both prisoners and sailors, in return for a variety of favours on the ship. As with her previous novels, Christina Baker Kline’s impeccable research adds a fundamental historical element to this tremendously moving story about three fictional women trying to make the most of their dire situation. While each of these women have vastly different backgrounds, they bond through exile and punishment, quickly learning that they need to work together if they have any hope of surviving, and someday finding freedom again.
In summary, this impressive novel tells the story of a new society being created in a beautiful, yet challenging land, through the experiences of Evangeline, Hazel and Mathinna. This story honours the strong, unbreakable women of history who were ripped from their homes, or who had to suffer through the dehumanizing conditions on convict ships. I assure you that reading The Exiles will touch your heart, stir your soul, and conquer up a variety of emotions thanks to the phenomenal story-telling ability of this author!
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Check out Kristin's other picks here.