Friday, October 30, 2020

Blog Tour: The Exiles by Christina Baker Kline

Evangeline is the daughter of a vicar who finds herself employed as a governess with a well to do family, and soon after being seduced by the son. Unfortunately he promises the world, but what Evangelines ends up with is a conviction for theft, a sentence of transportation to Van Diemen's Land and a baby on the way.

From the crowded cells in Newgate to her transportation on the prison ship Medea, Evangeline quickly loses her naivety, helped along by the women she meets who help her navigate life on board the ship, including Olive and Hazel.  Life on board a prison ship is not easy with the journey to the other side of the world being long and perilous.

Hazel is the daughter of a midwife, and has skills in healing and midwifery, who has been convicted of stealing a spoon. Whilst the ship's doctor is initially wary of Hazel, it isn't long before she is being sought out for her healing skills, trading her skills for bits and bobs.  Being able to help the doctor soon gives Hazel some additional comforts, which doesn't always sit well with her fellow prisoners, who see it as being given special treatment. 

When the prison ship arrives in Hobart, the convicts are transferred into the female prison, known as the Cascades Female Factory. From there, they either worked within the prison, or were hired out to the free folk of the city as housemaids, and other manual labourers, until their prison sentences were completed and they were free to start a new life.

Hazel finds herself assigned to the home of Lady Franklin, the wife of governor of the colony.  There she meets Mathinna, a  young indigenous girl who has been bought from her home on Flinder Island, and treated as a curiosity to be shown off at social events. But when the novelty wears off, she is left alone, with no family, no support. 

Seeing Mathinna's story was important, not least because Mathinna and the Franklins are historical figures. Mathinna's actual story is heartbreaking. I did think that more could have been made of this aspect of the story.

I thought it was interesting to see the brave choices that the author made, particularly in relation to Evangeline. 

I chose to read this book to see what a non Australian author would make of Australian history. I am not quite sure why I thought that was an interesting thing to look at. I mean, it isn't unusual for American or Australian authors to write European history, so there is no reason why an American author couldn't write our history. There are also plenty of similarities in the colonisation stories of other countries such as the effect of on indigenous peoples. Some aspects of that story are unique to Australia but others are repeated time and time again all over the world.

I do think that the author did get the history right. It was interesting to read the author's note where she talked about how Australian's feel when they find out they have a convict in their past. Certainly when I was growing up I don't remember anyone proudly announcing that was the case, but I do think that has changed a bit over the last 20 years or so. Certainly when you watch TV shows like Who Do You Think You Are? people are always keen to have a convict ancestor but there is definitely a preference for not a "bad" convict - a political prisoner, or someone who stole a spoon or something.

I didn't feel as connected to the characters as I could have been, but I do wonder if part of that is that this is history that I am familiar with, so I was looking for more depth in the characters. For someone who isn't as familiar with the history that might help keep you glued to the book.  It was interesting and I am glad to have taken the chance to read it.

I will say that reading the book did make me want to go to Hobart and visit the Female Factory. Maybe when the borders open again, whenever that might be.

Thanks to Random Things Tours, Netgalley and the publisher for a copy of this book

About the book

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.

'Master storyteller Christina Baker Kline is at her best in this epic tale of Australia’s complex history – a vivid and rewarding feat of both empathy and imagination. I loved this book.’

Paula McLain, New York Times bestselling author of The Paris Wife

'Filled with surprising twists, empathetic prose, and revealing historical details, Kline’s resonant, powerful story will please any historical fiction fan.'

Publishers Weekly

About the author

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. 


  1. I agree that as someone familiar with the history the characters felt a bit lacking , non-Australian readers really seem to love it though.

    1. There are certainly some great reviews out there Shelleyrae!

  2. Thanks for the blog tour support x