“Sometimes I’m like a tree, with all the rings inside. And every ring is a moment that mattered to me, or someone I loved.”
Thank you William Morrow Books for gifting me a copy of THE EXILES by Christina Baker Kline.
“Seduced by her employer’s son, Evangeline, a naïve young governess in early nineteenth-century London is discharged when her pregnancy is discovered and sent to the notorious Newgate Prison. After months in the fetid, overcrowded jail, she learns she is sentenced to “the land beyond the seas,” Van Diemen’s Land, a penal colony in Australia. Though uncertain of what awaits, Evangeline knows one thing: the child she carries will be born on the months-long voyage to this distant land.
During the journey on a repurposed slave ship, the Medea, Evangeline strikes up a friendship with Hazel, a girl little older than her former pupils who was sentenced to seven years transport for stealing a silver spoon. Canny where Evangeline is guileless, Hazel — a skilled midwife and herbalist – is soon offering home remedies to both prisoners and sailors in return for a variety of favors.
Though Australia has been home to Aboriginal people for more than 50,000 years, the British government in the 1840s considers its fledgling colony uninhabited and unsettled and views the natives as an unpleasant nuisance. By the time the Medea arrives, many of them have been forcibly relocated, their land seized by white colonists. One of these relocated people is Mathinna, the orphaned daughter of the Chief of the Lowreenne tribe, who has been adopted by the new governor of Van Diemen’s Land.”
It seems like every year there is a book that I read that impacts me in such a way that I can feel it in my bones. Because of this impact, I have to read the book slowly, allowing myself time to process what I’m reading. It doesn’t happen often, in 2018 it was Where the Crawdads Sing; in 2019, it was The Nightingale and in 2020, it’s going to be THE EXILES.
I went into this book thinking that it would be interesting as I am not familiar with this period or with the colonization of Australia through English prisoners. But, what I got was a heartbreaking story following a young woman who suffered such a terrible injustice and her journey aboard the Medea slave ship. From the jail to the slave ship, the conditions were unbearable; it made me feel sick to my stomach just thinking about someone being treated that way and forced to leave their life behind.
I also read about the horrible treatment that the Aboriginal people received as people came onto their land. Mathinna was treated as if her life, her history, and her thoughts did not matter. She was forced from the only world that she knew into a life that she did not want. She was talked about as if she did not matter and viewed as a savage creature that needed taming. She was taught English, forced into tight-fitting dresses and shoes, and had to learn “proper” etiquette and dance so that she could be presented in front of large groups of people. She lost her only friend and with that, my heart shattered for her beautiful soul.
THE EXILES is a heartbreakingly beautiful story about women whose lives were ripped from them and who were forced to endure such tragedy. This story, and the characters, will stay with me for a long time. I honestly don’t think that my review can do the story justice, I gave it five stars and will be recommending it to everyone. If you haven’t already added this one to your reading list, I hope that you do.
“You are in me, like a ring inside a tree. I won’t forget it.”
THE EXILES was released on August 25, 2020, and is available to order from your local bookstore today.