The Exiles: A Novel
by Kline Christina Baker
Hardcover- $19.59

AN INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

OPTIONED FOR TELEVISION BY BRUNA PAPANDREA, THE PRODUCER OF HBO'S BIG LITTLE LIES

“A tour de ...

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  "" by ebach (see profile) 07/19/20

While many people will feel THE EXILES is a five-star book and while I would have felt the same several years ago, my taste has evolved. I didn’t love it. I liked it, but I don’t have the heart to give it just three stars. It was such a nice, if somewhat predictable, story.

After Evangeline’s father dies, she becomes a governess in early 19th-century London. But after she has an affair with the adult son of the household, she ends up pregnant and in Newgate prison. From there, she is shipped with other prisoners to Australia.

On board, Evangeline meets Hazel, a midwife and herbalist. It is Hazel, not Evangeline, who plays the largest part in this story.

But this book is also about a third female, Mathinna. She is an Aboriginal child, taken on a whim to live among white people.

I read that this is to be made into a TV series. It is sure to make great television.

I won this advanced copy through LibraryThing.com.

 
  "very interesting stpry" by [email protected] (see profile) 10/02/20

fast read, interesting story about women convicts sent to Australia, also involving native people.

 
  "Outstanding" by Silversolara (see profile) 10/17/20

What a wonderful history lesson and beautifully written book.

I have never heard of these ships that took female prisoners from England to Australia to work off their sentences and who were charged with crimes of no consequence such as stealing a spoon.

We meet Evangeline who was a governess accused of stealing a ring that the son of the person she worked for gave her and who suffered through her months in a filthy prison then on the boat to Australia.

We meet Hazel a midwife and girl who knew how to heal with herbs who was on the transport ship with Evangeline, and they became fast friends as Evangeline taught her to read.

The horrible conditions and abuse these women had to endure is appalling, but the friendships made and the closeness of the women on the boat was wonderful.

In another story line, we meet Mathinna who was taken from her family by an aristocrat and his wife to live in their home. They cared nothing about how Mathinna felt to be all alone because they liked to “collect” things.

All three women suffered immeasurably in the lives they led and in situations that are mesmerizing but heartbreaking.

Ms. Kline has done impeccable research and enlightened us about this time in history and had me looking up Mathinna, the prisons, and Hobart Town.

Another outstanding read with beautifully flowing writing and definitely a book you won’t want to miss.

I didn’t want to stop reading and looked forward to returning to the book. 5/5

This book was given to me by the publisher and Book Browse in exchange for an honest review.

 
  "Good novel about grave injustice toward women that I had not known." by thewanderingjew (see profile) 10/22/20

The Exiles, Christina Baker Kline, author; Caroline Lee, Narrator
When the book begins, in 1840, two women from different homelands, backgrounds and social class are featured. Both are orphans. Both are victims of cultural and racial prejudices, of social class distinctions, of male chauvinism, and of aristocratic haughtiness that is typical for that time and place in history.
Evangeline is barely out of her teens. When her father, who was a pastor, dies, she is forced to seek employment to support herself. Few jobs are open to unmarried women, but because she is literate and socially acceptable, she is able to obtain work as a governess for the Whitstone family, in London. She finds that the servants are jealous of her intelligence, background and exalted status in the household. She takes her meals with the family, has a nicer room accommodation, and is treated a bit better than an ordinary servant.
The lower class and uneducated servants resent her presence and believe she is haughty. Naïve and unworldly, she allows herself to be seduced by Cecil Whitstone, the stepson of her employer. When he gives her an heirloom ring, she is accused of theft. She attacks her accuser, is arrested and eventually sentenced to prison in Hobart, on Van Diemen’s land (Tasmania), in Australia. On the ship taking her to the Cascades Women’s Prison, she meets other prisoners, Olive, a woman also with child, and Hazel, a young teenager. They soon become somewhat devoted to each other. Both know they will be separated from the infants shortly after they are born, and will not be able to care for them full time until their release. The children are sent to an orphan’s home on Van Diemen’s Island.
Meanwhile, on Flinders Island, in Australia, there is a child named Mathinna. She is only 8 years old in 1840. She is used to running free, shoeless, obeying her own whims and disregarding the expected decorum of polite society, of which she has no real knowledge. After her mother’s death, she lives there with her stepfather. Her tribe had been exiled to this place, years before. Her father, who had been the chieftain, had already died.
When Governor Franklin and his wife, collectors of skulls, came to her island, she went into hiding. However, when the children had entertained the Governor, she had been there dancing with abandon, in the native style. Jane Franklin noticed her. She took a fancy to her, and actually, she wished to possess her. Jane was a collector of many things. Mathinna was a dark-skinned aboriginal, thought to be savage and uneducable. Jane Franklin wanted to “tame” her and present her to her society as her very own conquest.
Mathinna is forced to leave her home without even so much as a goodbye to her stepfather. She is taken to Hobart’s Island, in Van Diemen’s land, where the governor presided. Placed under the care of her matron’s stepdaughter, Eleanor, who became her tutor, she flourishes for awhile, but never fits in and is always viewed as a kind of objet d’art.
Hazel, who had midwife skills and had helped with the birth of Evangeline’s child Ruby, begins to work for the Franklins as a household maid. She befriends Mathinna, noting how lonely she is. Convicts were able to work outside the prison, for free, but soon the Franklin’s are transferred and Mathinna is sent to the orphan’s home where Evangeline’s child, Ruby, is living, as well. The women’s lives intersect only briefly and peripherally.
As the other female characters are introduced, the reader becomes aware of the ignorance of other, largely illiterate women in society and their harsh judgment of those bearing children out of wedlock is palpable. The hierarchy of the different classes of citizens in society is illustrated through their various prison experiences which are often cruel and barbaric. Punishment for minor infractions is overly harsh. Men mistreat and mishandle them, lauding it over them with their privilege in society. Criminals who have committed offenses, great and small, even being pregnant out of wedlock, regardless of the reason, are spat upon and despised, and they are powerless to defend themselves against the aristocratic tyrants who are in charge.
Females were subjected to the societal pressures and prejudices of that time. Women had no rights, were thought to be subservient and were often punished and imprisoned because of the lies of a haughty and unfair citizenry, the word of an employer or a male. While Mathinna’s color made her exotic, viewed as a strange kind of creature, like a rare bird, she was also more despised. Children teased her and wet her skin to see if the color would wash off. Her literacy made her appear to be someone assuming a position above her station in life.
Three women, Hazel, an innocent teen who was arrested for stealing a silver spoon to aid her drug addicted mother, who was a midwife, Olive an uneducated, illiterate woman, arrested for thievery and having a child out of wedlock, and Evangeline, wrongly accused of attempted murder, theft and having a child out of wedlock, become friends while on the “slave ship” that took them from London to Australia to their place of incarceration.
While in the prison, Hazel’s skill as a midwife and herbalist becomes obvious as Olive, who seems cold-hearted, learns to show compassion and becomes a wet nurse, although much to her own consternation.
Mathinna’s life experiences seem a bit capricious and meaningless. They seem to lend truth to the idea that once a savage, always a savage, which is untrue and unkind. The good ship’s doctor, and an ex-convict from the ship also find reason to reunite again with the characters, some time later, and the results are catastrophic.
There are some elements of confusion in the novel. First, the time line moves back and forth sometimes, without explanation. Then geographic locations seem to have several names. Often the narrative picks up in a new place and a character reappears or a new one enters, in a different time frame, with little or no explanation for the passage of time or the change of situation for the character.
Caste and class march across the page replete with the snobbery and injustices of the times writ large. The Quakers are introduced into the narrative as peace loving people attempting to lessen the plight of the abused convict women without explanation. They appear and reappear without preamble, much to my dismay, at times, as I tried to figure out the reason for their appearance in the scene.
I thoroughly enjoyed most of the book, but I found that soon it became somewhat of a fairy tale with the unrealistic and somewhat fanciful knitting together of the loose threads of the story.

 
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