London, 1840. Evangeline, pregnant and falsely accused of stealing, has languished in Newgate prison for months. Ahead 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.
AN INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
OPTIONED FOR TELEVISION BY BRUNA PAPANDREA, THE PRODUCER OF HBO’S BIG LITTLE LIES
“A tour de force of original thought, imagination and promise … Kline takes full advantage of fiction — its freedom to create compelling characters who fully illuminate monumental events to make history accessible and forever etched in our minds.” — Houston Chronicle
The author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Orphan Train returns with an ambitious, emotionally resonant novel about three women whose lives are bound together in nineteenth-century Australia and the hardships they weather together as they fight for redemption and freedom in a new society.
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.
I absolutely loved this original and fascinating read and have begged so many people to read it since finishing it. I was absolutely delighted to hear that it had ben optioned and can’t wait to see it on the screen. I can’t stop thinking about its characters and almost feel like I’m wondering what they’re up to even though I’ve finished the book. I was whisked away to Australia at the start of its journey as a nation and felt like I was right there seeing how these women struggled and overcame the many obstacles in their paths and dealt with the challenges that they were presented with in a wholly different time and space I loved the way we are able to time travel back to their early days on the other side of the world and live through their entire journeys with them, experiencing all the joys, agonies and moments in time as they evolve and grow– which makes the struggles and awful moments they have to endure even more difficult to bear witness to.
The Exiles is an evocative, beautiful and pitch perfect rendering of women who at times have to bear the unbearable . When I saw how much the other bloggers on the tour had loved it, I knew that it would be right up my street as their reviews made it sound like exactly my kind of read. The beauty of the writing and the strength of the characterisation are in perfect harmony throughout the novel and rendered me almost speechless at times as I felt that some scenes were just so poignantly and perfectly captured. Evangeline is such a compelling character and her struggles with being stigmatised and ostracised are a million miles away from today’s culture of empathy and ‘it’s good to talk’ when things in your life feel out of control…
All three women in this novel have to deal with a world where they are second class citizens – in a period where women of whatever colour and social station struggled and those who had additional challenges like ethnicity or an unwanted pregnancy had even more to contend with. Hazel, Evangeline and Mathinna have to struggle to find their own way to cope when at times their situation means that they are ostracised by the community through a lack of understanding and comprehension of who they truly are and what they are struggling with.
The Exiles captured my heart and let me feel like I’d spent real time with its characters, feeling their emotions and walking a mile in their shoes and this book goes one step further in making me feel like I’d lived these experiences as I read. I empathised with Evangeline’s sense of hopelessness at first, feeling like she’d set much of her suffering in motion herself and wondering what lies ahead of her across the wide ocean. Hazel is almost her opposite and exhibits such a strong sense of preservation and survival that you can see why Evangeline is drawn to her. You can see how women had to cling to other females that they encountered when you see the dangers of being a lone woman in a world where one wrong step can lead to your undoing and losing everything you’ve worked so hard to achieve.
The Exiles is a beautifully rendered portrait of these three women’s journeys in a way that really makes you care about its characters. I haven’t been this emotional about a novel for a long time – the last time it was this powerful was when I read Shuggie Bain – and I know that this book will definitely stay with me for just as long due to its beauty, its anguish and its refusal to gloss over either the bleakness or devastation that these women had to endure at times. If you don’t have at least a lump in your throat at some point when reading this novel, check that you don’t actually have a heart of stone because some moments described here are far far to difficult to bear…
I’d like to thank Anne Cater of Random Things tours for the blog tour invite and can’t wait to see what Christina does next – buy yourself a copy here but stock up on some tissues first, you have been warned…
Writer On The Shelf
CHRISTINA BAKER KLINE is the author of seven novels, including the #1 New York Times bestseller Orphan Train. Her essays, articles, and reviews have appeared in the New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, Money, More, and Psychology Today, among other publications. She lives in New York City and on the coast of Maine.