Member Reviews

I loved this historical fiction set in early 19th century Australia which tells the story of female prisoners transported to Australia for the slightest of trumped up crimes. The Exiles also tells the tale of a young Aboriginal child, ripped from her people and kept as a science experiment by the governors wife. This is a story that the reader cannot put down and will rip your heart out page by page. NetGalley provided the amazing audiobook narrated by the fabulous Caroline Lee in exchange for an honest review. #TheExiles #NetGalley
Highly Recommended

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Christina Baker Kline is back with a new historical fiction novel, The Exiles! I can't wait to see how much book clubs love this one (Orphan Train had a three digit wait list for YEARS at my library). The Exiles is an often heavy read, telling the story of women transported to Australia as convicts, as well as featuring an Aboriginal girl named Mathinna who is taken from her land by the governor's family for the purpose of "civilizing" her (and treating her as an object). There is a lot of brutality, hardship, and shameful mistreatment of all the women featured in the story. While I was at least somewhat familiar with the legacy of transporting "convicts" to Australia and Tasmania, I had not thought much about the women who experienced this, and I think the sure popularity of this book will bring it further into the collective consciousness.

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Wonderfully balanced Historical fiction - well-researched, compelling characters and a fascinating story - Also has an awesome audiobook narrator!

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My niece lives in Australia and I periodically make an effort to learn something -- anything! -- about her new homeland. I confess I am woefully ignorant about Australia’s history (as well as the present situation there, other than the big backstory about it being a destination to which prisoners were sent and a few current major stories, e.g. wildfires). So I was particularly happy to receive a copy of Christina Baker Kline’s book The Exiles from Harper Collins/Custom House and NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. I figured the author of Orphan Train would enlighten me while entertaining me.

The book is set in the mid-1800s, and tells the story of this new society in a challenging setting from the points of view of four women, all of whom are facing very difficult hardships from a very young age. First is Mathinna, a native girl orphaned after learning the English language. In a troubling early scene, the wife of the English governor takes a fancy to her and decides she’ll rescue her, like a shelter pet, and educate her. Next is Evangeline, also orphaned when her minister father dies and she has to move out of the home they shared to make room for the new minister and his family. When she gets work as a governess for a wealthy family, she falls for the oldest son, is accused of crimes, and taken to prison -- pregnant. Hazel and Evangeline meet on board the prison ship taking them to Australia, and on the way, Evangeline gives birth to Ruby.

In the 1840s, Australia was considered by the British to be uninhabited and unsettled, and the natives (including Mathinna’s family) were seen as an unpleasant nuisance. By the time Evangeline, Hazel, and Ruby arrive on the prison ship, many of the natives have been forcibly relocated, and their land has been taken by white colonists.
I remember in college reading Phyllis Chesler’s Women and Madness and being appalled by the way women were treated...and this book evoked the same level of horror and frustration! Many people will read this and feel warm and fuzzy about the bonds of female friendship, and the ability of strength to overcome adversity. There is also the satisfaction at seeing someone overcome hardships, find new opportunities, etc. etc blah blah blah. But I just kept feeling the anger I have felt for decades when I see the injustice women have always dealt with, particularly if they happened to be poor and uneducated. So yes, it is lovely prose, and yes I learned some about Australia, and I am sure Ms. Kline’s fans will adore this book. Historical fiction isn’t my favorite genre, but I did try to have an open mind. BTW, I received this as both an audio book and a print book, and I felt the same although I admit I did not finish the audio version. I already knew the story and wasn’t wild about the narrator. I’ll go with four stars for a good story, characters I cared about, and great descriptions of time and place.

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The Exiles by Christina Baker Kline looks at the lives of three female convicts and one Australian aborigine in the 1840s. The convicts -- Evangeline, Hazel, and Olive – have been imprisoned in England for petty crimes. They are harshly sentenced to live out their punishment at a penal colony in Australia. The aborigine, Mathinna, is an orphaned girl who is adopted by the governor of Van Diemen’s Land. The stories of all the characters play out over several years.

This is a grim tale with glimmers of hope here and there. All the women are made stronger by the trials and tribulations they endure. They must rely on each other to survive -- and go on when one doesn’t. As for Mathinna, she has an easier time of being an exile because she lived in the governor’s house, but she struggles to find her place for no one looks or acts like her in the new surroundings.

I found Mathinna’s plot to be distracting as it had little to do with the others. The story might have been stronger and more focused without her tale.

Christina Baker Kline, author of the best-selling Orphan Train, writes essays, articles, and reviews as well as novels. Her work has been printed in the New York Times and the NYT Book Review, the Boston Globe, the San Francisco Chronicle, LitHub, and Psychology Today among others.

My review will be posted on Goodreads starting August 28, 2020.

I would like to thank William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in return for an objective review.

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Oh my gosh! There is so much I want to say about this read. The history, the characters, the drama…Everything is rolled up into one package.

Evangeline has a new job. She is a governess. But, she is falsely accused of stealing a ring. She ends up in Newgate Prison. Never before has she seen anything like this, let alone…live this. She is set for transport to Australia. She knows she will never see England again.

Mathinna is an orphaned aboriginal. She is taken from everything and everyone she has ever known to be on display for the new governor’s wife. How do these two connect…very creatively by the author.

This story follows two story lines, Evangeline and Mathinna. Both are tragic and captivating. Both happen on opposite sides of the world.

Well! Christina Baker Kline did not disappoint! This story is excellent! I read it in one day. I was mesmerized from start to finish. Do not miss this one folks! So good!

Do NOT miss this one! Grab your copy today!

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I love Christina Baker Kline! Her story telling is amazing. It is very hard for me to put and of her books down! Always recommend her books.

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A book that met my expectations of interest, but every time I thought I knew where the story was going, I was surprised. The general story--of British female prisoners being shipped to Australia--is one I know of historically, but haven't read any novels about; and to delve into an array of theirs experiences was fascinating as well as heartbreaking. But this book doesn't only tell the tale of those who were sent to Australia; it also shines a light on how the British treated the native population, as well--introducing you to one young girl's fate at the hands of a wealthy immigrant family. While I'm not always a fan of back-and-forth story lines, the way these different perspectives wove together created a piercing overview of what happens when people aren't valued as people, whoever they may be. The author brought these characters to life in such a way, that I have to remind myself they're not actually a part of history.

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This novel is beautifully written, yet a bit painful to read as it tells the story of transported convict women and also the aboriginals in Australia set in the 1840s.

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Absolutely gorgeous and so timely in so many ways. Thoughtful, evocative; The Exiles takes readers on a fascinating journey. Definitely a must read!

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I’ve been a fan of Christina Baker Kline’s Orphan Train. She doesn’t disappoint in her new book which looks at Australia through the eyes of thee women who were all forced to leave their homes by the British. First there is young aboriginal who is made into a “pet” by a local governor’s wife who wants to see if the aboriginals could be domesticated. The other two are a naïve British governess who believes the son of her employer when he says he loves her, only to find herself convicted for the theft of a ring he gave her and loaded on a transport ship to Australia. The third is a Scottish girl who stole a silver spoon and is transported to Australia. Kline makes great use of her research in telling their stories. While there is sadness and horror, there is also hope in the story of the women brought by transport and forced to help settle a new country. Yet, Kline, makes clear in the story of the aboriginal chief’s daughters, great damage was done by English interference.

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The Exiles swept me away into a world that I hadn't visited before, leaving me a little shattered and a lot in love by the end. In this way, Christina Baker Kline's storytelling is once again....unforgettable. I loved all three of the main characters- fierce women who persevered through hardship and oppression and I loved that halfway through my heart broke. I needed to put it down for a day until I couldn’t stand it and had to keep reading more. I loved that I traveled to a place and time I haven’t read about before, written in such a way that I really felt like I was traveling with the women in the story.
I love this quote: “Maybe the moments that meant something to you and the people you’ve loved over the years are the rings. Maybe what you thought you’d lost is still there, inside of you, giving you strength to carry on.

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The women of 19th century Australia had it rough, whether they were transported from England for trivial offenses, or Aboriginals treated as less than human by white settlers. This is the moving, evocative, and sometimes painful story of four women--three white, one Aboriginal--who fought the odds and sometimes, but not always, won.

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3.5 rounded up to 4 stars

You can read all of my reviews at NerdGirlLovesBooks.

This is a compelling historical fiction about women who were convicted, given harsh sentences, and shipped off to an Australian penal colony.

The story follows three main characters. Evangeline is a 21 year old governess who foolishly has a relationship with the elder son of her employee and becomes pregnant. After he gives her an heirloom ring and takes off on vacation, she is accused of stealing the ring and attempted murder when she shoves the maid that vindictively turned her in down the stairs. Hazel is a 16 year old girl that has learned midwifery and healing from her uncaring mother. When she's forced by her mother to steal to help support them, she is immediately caught and convicted. Mathinna is an 11 year old aboriginal girl living on a remote island with members of her people. She catches the eye of the wife of the governor and is then whisked away to live with them so they can "civilize" her.

The story describes the relationships formed between Evangeline, Hazel and other women on the ship, as well as the brutality they suffered at the hands of the crew members and the elements. Once in Australia, the women are housed in a dank prison overseen by a harsh warden. The women are not aloud to speak, must toil away at back-breaking work, and must attend chapel twice a day to be screamed at by the chaplain about how evil and wicked they are.

The only break from the harsh conditions is when settlers choose the women to work in their homes or businesses. The women provide free labor all day, and then return back to the prison each night. At first Hazel is assigned to work in the nursery, where she cares for the prisoner's children, including Evangeline's child. One day she is abruptly pulled from the nursery and re-assigned to work at the governor's house, where she meets Mathinna. Mathinna is treated like a trick pony by the governor's wife and is miserable. She misses her people and is neglected by the governor's wife. Hazel is kind to Mathinna and takes care of her when Mathinna becomes sick.

The book is told in alternating chapters. The Evangeline and Hazel chapters meld well together, but the Mathinna chapters do not. I understand the author's decision to include Mathinna's story in the book because of the horrible atrocities perpetuated on her people during this time period, but her storyline felt out of place. The inclusion felt forced and aimless, and towards the end kind of fizzled out and was not resolved. I had to take .5 stars off the book for his reason.

I haven't read many historical fiction books about Australia, so it was fascinating to read this story. I really enjoyed this book and recommend you check it out. You won't be disappointed.

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley and HarperCollins in exchange for an honest review.

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For the most part, this was a compelling, though unsettling read. Set in the 1840s, THE EXILES tell the story of four different women in Tasmania when it was still used as penal colony for British criminals. Kline’s prose is so descriptive and visceral that I could smell the stench and feel the brutality and inhumanity displayed toward the convicts for majority of the book. All the women— Evangeline, Hazel, Mathinna and Ruby are society’s unwanted exiles, through no fault of their own. They are mistreated, abandoned, and ignored, yet each manages to salvage a part of her true self. I was relieved and heartened by the uplifting ending. This will be a great book for book discussions as well as women’s history month.

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This book absolutely blew me away. The historical accuracy of the writing as indicated in the acknowledgements is painful to believe. As a reader, I wanted to believe the fiction is fiction and not based on fact. After putting it down, I was literally haunted by the stories of the female convicts and the aboriginal people...both groups are "the exiled". The British convict women were brutally treated and transported to the Australian penal colony with the underlying purpose to help colonize Australia. The native aboriginal people (or those that remained) suffered an unconscionable fate, pushed out of their homelands, exiled to an island where they were sick and ultimately died.

The book follows the stories of various women. Mathinna, the young aboriginal girl who is taken like a souvenir from her people, forced to live with the governors family and made to change to fit in. But she never really “fits”. Evangeline, the young governess, falsely accused of theft and attempted murder, who remains strong and hopeful, a light to everyone around her, in spite of her overwhelming circumstances. Hazel, the young Scottish girl who carries a bitterness and strength and compassion far beyond her years. And Ruby, who is the future.

There are themes of parallel exiles throughout the book (female convicts, Mathinna and the aboriginal people, the bird, the surgeon, the British sent to Australia to govern). The exile of the aboriginal people, and specifically Matthina, is particularly sad because they have no voice, no reason to be exiled, exiled to an island, exiled to live in the government house as an experiment, exiled to live in an orphanage, exiled back to the island where they no longer belong, exiled back to a town where don’t belong, ultimately ending up as lost souls.

The other theme that flows throughout the book is that of women’s strength and the transition of their rights and place in history. The book ends with a tribute to the strong women that Ruby carries inside of her like rings of a tree that give her strength. I also love the parallel symbolism in the aboriginal culture of the shell necklace... how each shell represents people who love you and you are the string holding it all together.

The writing is striking, the author takes you right to the heart of the painful stories. Unexpected turns have you riveted around, and then not sure what to expect next. As a reader, you are hoping for the best, yet heartbreakingly finding the worst...and then given hope. I loved every minute of this book and will very likely read it again. Definitely my favorite this year, and I've read some really good books!

Thank you, Christina Baker Kline!

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I love this author. This new book doesn't disappoint. She's uses real history to create beautiful novels full of characters you can root for, and I am HERE for it! When you finish reading, Google the characters Mathinna and Sir John and Lady Jane Franklin who were real historical figures.

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The hardships encountered by women prisoners during the 1840's are described in vivid detail in this sobering read by Kline. A young governess, a teenage girl and a young Aboriginal girl all find themselves struggling to survive in a society that deems them unworthy. They make friendships and enemies that haunt them throughout the story. The hardships they encounter lead to life changing events that shape personalities and futures. This story shed light on a time that promoted cruel and unyielding social justice. Although there are some lighter moments, most of the story was very dark and depressing, just like prison would be during the 1840's for a woman.

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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.

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Historical fiction focusing on the transport of female “convicts” from England to Australia in the early 1840s and the unfolding of their stories of powerlessness and survival. Beautifully written, I was captivated by the history, the women and their stories. Heartbreaking yet uplifting. I loved it.

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