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Book Review: The Exiles by Christina Baker Kline
                                             Book Review: The Exiles by Christina Baker Kline (2020) (Historical Fiction) 4 Stars ****
Add titEngaging, heartbreaking tale of the lives of three hapless females whose lives and stories converge in Australia. Beginning in London in 1840 and ending in London in 1868, we are reminded once again how prevalent mistreatment and severe punishment of the lower classes were in the Great Britain of the 19th century. Convicts were sent to Australia, which served as a penal colony, on slave ships to pay off their debts to society—some for serious crimes, others for minor infractions. Men and women received the same punishment and children often accompanied their mothers throughout this degrading ordeal.

Living in sub-human conditions in British prisons, then slave transport ships for the three months long journey from Britain to Australia, convicts fought to stay alive in overcrowded confinement—filthy, shackled, at starvation, surrounded by rodents, denied medical treatment, victims of rape by sexually aggressive sailors. Some lived out their sentences in prisons, while others were utilized as forced labor for the ruling classes.

The lives of three hapless females intersect and overlap beginning in 1840 Australia and in the years that follow. Each one is a recipient of kindness which is paid back in unforeseen ways.

Eight-year-old Mathinna, an orphaned Australian Aboriginal girl is temporarily adopted by a wealthy family as an experiment to see if she can be educated in the civilized ways of the wealthy.

Twenty-one-year-old Evangeline, is a London governess and daughter of a church Vicar, used, impregnated, and discarded by an upper crust member of London society.

Sixteen-year-old Hazel, healer and mid-wife, is eventually able to escape her miserable life.

Not everyone is so lucky. Much depends on the backgrounds and skills they bring with them, as well as a helping hand from the kind and fair-minded people around them.

Lower class women were worth nothing, as were their children. Only ladies were protected but their rights were derived from their fathers, then their husbands.

Well-researched book. Well-written. It presents a moment-in-time history of Great Britain that should make any member of the ruling class weep in shame. It’s hard to imagine what warped justification drove these God-fearing people.

There are some weak points in the story. Mathinna virtually disappears, and we don’t find out her fate for many years. Evangeline’s thoughts lead us to hope for a different ending from what occurs. Helen’s miraculous reinvention is not described but only alluded to at the end of the book. Another important character suddenly appears grown up, independent, and feisty. I would have liked to accompany her on her journey to adulthood.



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