Reviews

The Exiles, by Christina Baker Kline

mombond's review against another edition

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5.0

Amazing story. Amazing writing. Amazing!

kadeherrera's review against another edition

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challenging dark emotional reflective sad tense

4.25

xkay_readsx's review against another edition

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4.0

There are a handful of strong female characters in The Exiles. Three most notable are Evangeline from London, a prisoner who was sent to Tasmania for (falsely accused) petty crime. Her journey on the prisoner ship was some of the most heart wrenching part of the book. She developed a friendship with Hazel another convict on the ship. Third, an Aboriginal girl, Mathinna who was "adopted" by the governor's wife of Hobart Town capital of Tasmania. Mathinna is her project to train and "domesticated".

This is my second historical fiction that takes place in Australia. The Exiles is unique and an excellent story.

gloriazthompson's review against another edition

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adventurous sad tense
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? It's complicated
  • Diverse cast of characters? No
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? No

4.0


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readingismetime's review against another edition

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challenging dark emotional inspiring sad slow-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? No
  • Loveable characters? No
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? No

3.0

tasmanian_bibliophile's review against another edition

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3.0

‘Three quite different women, three different stories.’

From Flinders Island in 1840, to London and then to Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania), this novel follows the life of three exiled women. We first meet Mathinna, an orphaned Indigenous girl ‘adopted’ by Sir John and Lady Jane Franklin. We then meet Evangeline, pregnant, convicted of stealing and imprisoned in Newgate. On board the prison ship Medea transporting her to Van Diemen’s Land, Evangeline meets Hazel, a Scots teenager, who has also been transported for theft.

Three quite different women, three different stories. Evangeline and Hazel are fictional characters, Mathinna is real. Each has been removed from the world she is familiar with. How will each of them manage? And what about Evangeline’s child?

Christina Baker Kline’s depiction of Newgate prison, of life on a prison transport and the female factory in Van Diemen’s Land is consistent with other accounts I have read. Evangeline and Hazel are both representative (at least in part) of women convicted and transported. Mathinna’s story (and I have read several different accounts) is a sad reflection on the treatment of Indigenous Tasmanians. Those who read this novel will, if they are so tempted, find a list of additional books and sources to explore. I have read a number of these books.

If you enjoy historical fiction set during the nineteenth century and have an interest in Tasmania’s colonial past, you may enjoy this novel. If you are looking for more information about the history and human impact of transportation, you will find several sources to explore. And, if you ever have an opportunity to view Thomas Bock’s painting of Mathinna, look into those eyes and see a young woman trapped between two worlds. A tragedy.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Allison & Busby for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

lee's review against another edition

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5.0

5 stars!

Even though I’ve had most of Christina Baker Kline’s works (including her 2 most famous ones Orphan Train and A Piece of the World) on my TBR for quite a while already, I’m sorry to say that I have not been able to explore her backlist as I’ve been intending to (mostly due to timing issues). Despite not having read her previous works (yet), that didn’t prevent me from jumping on the chance to read an advance copy of her latest historical novel, The Exiles (scheduled for release at the end of this month). I’m so glad I did, as this was such a brilliantly written masterpiece and definitely one of my favorites this year! I was so invested in the story and characters that I didn’t want to stop reading if I could help it, so I ended up finishing this in pretty much one sitting.

Set in the 1840s, the narrative revolves around the experiences of 3 ordinary women — Evangeline, Hazel, and Mathinna — and the hardships they encounter in a society that doesn’t value them. Evangeline Stokes is the young educated daughter of a vicar who takes up a post as governess with a local English family the Whitstones after her father dies, only to be seduced by the young master of the house and sent away to prison after a string of false accusations (including pregnancy out of wedlock, stealing, and tempted murder) are levied against her. After a few months at the Newgate Prison in London, Evangeline is eventually sentenced to 14 years at Van Diemen’s Land, a penal colony in Australia. On the months-long journey there via a repurposed slave ship, Evangeline befriends a teenager named Hazel, a fellow prisoner who was sentenced to 7 years transport for stealing a spoon. Despite her young age, Hazel has lived a life of suffering— unloved by her alcoholic mother, she was forced at a young age to fend for herself and soon becomes adept at pickpocketing in order to survive. Hardened to life, Hazel soon figures out that the only way to make the transport bearable is to utilize her midwifery and herbalist skills (both of which she learned from observing her mother, who was a midwife) to help others in exchange for more favorable treatment. In a separate but related story arc, we meet Mathinna, the eight-year-old daughter of an Aboriginal chief, a native whose people were largely killed off when the British government colonized the Australian territory. Mathinna is “adopted” into the household of John Franklin, the new governor of Van Diemen’s Land, at the whim of his wife Lady Franklin, whose outward charity actually masks deeply rooted prejudices toward the natives. As such, Mathinna’s adoption is actually an “experiment” for Lady Franklin, who wants to prove to her friends and acquaintances that “wild savages” of Mathinna’s ilk can be “tamed” into propriety. As the 3 narratives intertwine, the women‘s lives eventually cross as well, but their fates follow markedly different paths.

When it comes to books, a “masterpiece” for me needs to encompass, at minimum, the following: a well-crafted story that flows effortlessly, beautiful writing, well-developed and unforgettable characters that I can’t help rooting for, emotional resonance, nearly flawless execution of story elements, and most importantly, it needs to either teach me something or make me reflect, whether about my own values / beliefs or those of the society in which we live. In this regard, The Exiles, with its heart-wrenching, powerful story so exquisitely told, definitely qualifies as a masterpiece. Prior to reading this, I knew very little about Britain’s colonization of Australia in the nineteenth century and even less about the history of female prisoners being transported overseas and assigned as free labor for mostly wealthy British families in the colony. It was gut-wrenching to read about how badly these women were treated, the brutal conditions they had to endure, and worse of all, how little their lives were valued in a society where blatant discrimination was the norm. Both Evangeline’s and Hazel’s stories were heart-wrenching and made me cry, but Mathinna’s story absolutely broke my heart – an adult having to deal with racial discrimination is difficult enough, but for an innocent child to have to endure what Mathinna did (which was essentially to be treated as the Franklin family pet – dressed up and shown off when they wanted some amusement, kicked aside and ignored when they grew tired of her), it honestly made me sick.

For me, the best historical fiction has the ability to seamlessly weave real historical details into a fictional story in a way that is powerful, transformative, and opens our eyes to the indignities in society as well as the world we live in. More importantly, in allowing the voices of the oppressed to be heard, it also serves as a much-needed reminder that, as a society, we need to do better. Christina Baker Kline is an amazing storyteller – not only was she able to weave an atmospheric and completely absorbing story (the strong sense of time and place absolutely made me feel transported into theses characters’ world), she also managed to make the story relevant to modern times and what we as a society are currently going through.

I love stories with strong female characters and this one had many -- Evangeline, Hazel, Mathinna, Olive, Maeve, Ruby, etc. – and also all of the unnamed female prisoners who were also an important part of the story. This was an enlightening read, albeit also a challenging one given that some parts of it for sure won’t be easy to stomach, but overall a necessary read that I absolutely, wholeheartedly recommend!

Received ARC from William Morrow (HarperCollins) via NetGalley and Edelweiss.

rebelqueen's review against another edition

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3.0

3.5 stars. Slow start, rushed ending. I enjoyed learning about early Australian history. I liked both storylines, however, I was unsatisfied with Mathinna’s ending. Hazel was a great, fiery, well-developed character.

djohan's review against another edition

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emotional informative reflective sad slow-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? It's complicated

5.0

sourpersimmon's review against another edition

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3.0

I did enjoy reading this, and the story was well written and had good progression. I don't like how the story ended with little resolution for the one non-white main character. And while that may have been the historical reality, and Aboriginal/Indigenous peoples/Torres Strait Islanders were treated abominally, this is still fiction, so why did literally every other (white) character essentially have a happier ending? Not sure how to feel about this but it didn't sit well with me. Maybe that was the author's intention.