Tuesday, April 20, 2021

The Exiles by Christina Baker Kline


This historical fiction starts off in nineteenth century London giving us a glimpse of the good and bad in society. Two of our main characters, Evangeline and Hazel,  are exiled to prison in Tasmania or as it's refered to in the book, Van Dieman's land.  

Evangeline is an educated woman employed as a governess in an affluent household.  She is an innocent and when the adult son takes a liking to her, she is easily seduced in believing it's true love.  He gifts her an expensive ruby ring before going away on a holiday, telling her to keep the gift a secret. As you can imagine, she is "caught" with the ring, accused of stealing and sent to prison. Can it get worse?  Yes. Yes it can. Evangeline finds she is pregnant while awaiting her court date.  Her sentence is transporation and she is sent to a prison in Tasmania.

On the ship she meets Hazel, a very young woman who knows a good deal about natural medicine and midwifery.  Hazel was accused to stealing a silver spoon and for that, she is also sentenced to transportation. They form a friendship and take care of one another. Hazel learns to read as Evangeline teaches her during their time together. Eventually she is able to assist the ship's doctor with other pregnant prisoners and minor ailments.

Our other main character is a nine year old aboriginal girl named Mathinna.  She lives with a group of extended fanily on Flinders island as the aboriginals were exiled there with promises of a better life. This is a heartbreaker of a story.  The Governor's wife fancies the looks of Mathinna and takes her from all she knows to "become civilized" in their household.  She is a toy, a pet, to the the woman who only cares about parading her about to friends to show Mathinna can dance and learn to speak French. It's despicable.
She doesn't fit in with the white culture and they've stripped her of her connections with her heritage. 

The fates of the young women in this book could be explored further and I wish the author had done so. While it wrapped up sufficiently, I would have rather the book were longer and more detail about the character's fates and conditions on Van Dieman's land. More of Mathinna in later life would have been good as well.

Sharing with Marg at The Intrepid Reader for the Historical Fiction Challenge.


  1. I rarely read historical fiction but this sounds so good that I may find a copy.

  2. This sounds amazing but brutal. I'm listening to The Pearl Sister by Lucinda Riley and it's set in Australia and there's quite a bit about Aboriginal culture and their treatment talked about and it's shocking.

  3. I read this a while ago. It was interesting to get the take of a non Australian telling Australian history.

  4. That's alot of exile for one book but I am sure was normal for the time period.


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