The Exiles

A time period and perspective not often explored is laid bare in The Exiles, poignant historical fiction by Christina Baker Kline (Orphan Train). When the British were colonizing Australia, the women sent to the then-penal colony had often committed no crime greater than being from a lower class and in the wrong place at the wrong time. When Evangeline, a governess, becomes pregnant by a member of her employer's family, she is betrayed and forced onto the next prison ship. She is joined by, among others, Hazel, a young woman with healing knowledge whose crime was stealing a spoon to sell in order to buy food. Another woman, Olive, explains:

"England used to send its dregs to America, but after the rebellion they had to find a new rubbish dump. Australia it was. Before they knew it there was nine men for every woman. Nine! Ye can't found a settlement with only men, can ye? Nobody thought that through. So they came up with arse-backward excuses to send us over there."

What follows is an unflinching narrative illustrating the brutality of British colonization, both through the harsh realities of the mistreated British women and through the heartbreaking stories of the Aboriginal Lost Generation as told by Mathinna, a young Aboriginal girl who is forced to be essentially a pet to the colony's governor and his wife. A loose kinship between Hazel and Mathinna forms as they are enslaved in the governor's household, wrestling with questions about how to survive, what kind of prisoner to become, what kind of violations to allow and, worst of all, what kind of violations to perpetrate. --BrocheAroe Fabian, owner, River Dog Book Co.

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