Summary and book reviews of The Exiles by Christina Baker Kline

The Exiles by Christina Baker Kline X
The Exiles by Christina Baker Kline
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  • Published:
    Aug 2020, 384 pages

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Book Summary

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.

Coming Soon.

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Were you familiar with this part of Australia's history before reading? Was there anything new you learned that particularly surprised you?
  2. Mathinna and Evangeline are both orphans, and Hazel has a difficult relationship with her mother. What impact does this have on their characters, and how do you think their stories would have been different if their families were still alive?
  3. Compare the different treatments of male and female convicts aboard the Medea. Though the male convicts are also being punished, they are still in a position of authority over the female prisoners. What does this say about British society in the 1800s?
  4. The Franklins make Mathinna feel like she doesn't belong in Hobart Town, yet Mrs. Wilson tells Mathinna ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly
[G]ripping...Filled with surprising twists, empathetic prose, and revealing historical details, Kline's resonant, powerful story will please any historical fiction fan.

Booklist
Kline deftly balances tragedy and pathos, making happy endings hard-earned and satisfying...Book groups will find much to discuss, such as the uses of education, both formal and informal, in this moving work.

Library Journal (starred review)
Both uplifting and heartbreaking, this beautifully written novel doesn't flinch from the ugliness of the penal system but celebrates the courage and resilience of both the first peoples and the settlers who came after, voluntarily or not, to create a new home for themselves and their children.

Author Blurb Paula McLain, author of The Paris Wife and Love and Ruin
Master storyteller Christina Baker Kline is at her best in this epic yet intimate tale of nineteenth-century Australia. I loved this book.

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