Author Christina Baker Kline’s latest historical novelsheds light onthe harsh penal system in nineteenth-century England and the impact of colonization in Australia. Dan Compton has this month’s book review of The Exiles.
Author Christina Baker Kline visited Park City in September 2016 to talk about her novel Orphan Train which was our One Book One Community selection that year. Orphan Train follows the lives of orphans from the east coast who were shipped on trains to Midwest families, many of whom wanted free labor on their farms. Kline’s latest historical novel takes place on the other side of the world in England and Van Diemen’s land, the primary penal colony in Australia known today as the island of Tasmania.
Evangeline is a naïve young governess in London who is discharged after the discovery of her pregnancy with her employer’s son. She is also accused of theft and sent to prison. After spending months in the overcrowded prison, she is sentenced to the penal colony in Van Diemen’s Land. The journey will take months, and it is certain her child will be born at sea if she can survive.
While at sea, Evangeline befriends a young woman named Hazel who was sentenced to seven years in Van Diemen’s land for stealing a spoon. Hazel is an experienced herbalist and midwife. Both Evangeline and Hazel find friendship with the ship’s physician Dr. Dunne which proves to be invaluable in the months and years to come. The circumstances of the passengers, especially the female passengers, on this repurposed slave ship are harrowing. Life in the penal colony in Australia is just as dire.
We also have the voice of Mathinna, an orphaned daughter of the Chief of the Lowreenne Aboriginal tribe. She is forced to relocate to Van Diemen’s land to be the adopted daughter of its new governor. She is treated like an exhibit to other colonists and has to let go of everything and everyone she holds dear.
This novel accelerates fast and never lets go. It is told from multiple points of view. Although it is difficult to read about the injustices and horrible living conditions the characters experience, readers will push forward in hope of redemption for these remarkable women. The power of this novel lies in the resilience and friendships of the characters. They form unbreakable bonds during the course of their journey.
Almost 20% of modern Australians are descended from transported British convicts. This novel sheds light on the difficult history and grit of their ancestors. I highly recommend this novel to all fans of historical fiction.
The Exiles can be found in our local libraries. For KPCW this is Dan Compton with the Summit County Library.