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THE EXILES by Christina Baker Kline Kirkus Star


by Christina Baker Kline

Pub Date: Aug. 25th, 2020
ISBN: 978-0-06-235634-5
Publisher: Custom House/Morrow

A London governess and a Scottish midwife’s neglected daughter are sent to a penal colony in Australia, where an Aboriginal girl is in another sort of captivity.

Kline’s monumental eighth novel opens in 1840 on Flinders Island, Australia, where an 8-year-old orphan named Mathinna is whisked away from her tribe at the whimsy of visiting dignitary Lady Franklin, who fancies training one of the "savages." A necklace of shells made by her mother and a pet possum named Waluka are all Mathinna can take from the life she knew. Across the ocean, 21-year-old Evangeline, also recently orphaned, is fired from her job in London and sent to Newgate Prison when a family treasure is found in her room—and this is not the only problematic gift she has received from the family’s eldest son, now conveniently traveling in Venice. Meanwhile, in Glasgow, half-starved 16-year-old urchin Hazel Ferguson is caught stealing a silver spoon. Evangeline and Hazel become acquainted on the Medea, a former slaving ship bound for the prison colony where the now obviously pregnant Evangeline is to serve a sentence of 14 years. Kline takes her time with this epic story, creating each of her nightmarish and uniquely malodorous settings in detail, from the harrowing months at sea with the randy and violent sailors to the strange new world that awaits Evangeline and Hazel in the convict colony. Once back on land, the narrative loops in poor lonely Mathinna, whose life now consists mainly of being dragged out at tea parties to be pawed and humiliated, then clicks into high gear when Hazel gets a work-release assignment as a maid in Lady Franklin’s household. This episode in history gets a top-notch treatment by Kline, one of our foremost historical novelists.

This fascinating 19th-century take on Orange Is the New Black is subtle, intelligent, and thrillingly melodramatic.