“Prologue: Flinders Island, Australia, 1840. By the time the rains came, Mathinna had been hiding in the bush for nearly two days. She was eight years old, and the most important thing she’d ever learned was how to disappear.”
I’m Betty Martin with "Martin’s Must Reads" and those are the opening lines to Christina Baker Kline’s newest novel The Exiles.
Mathinna is a relocated Aboriginal, an orphan who tries unsuccessfully to evade being taken in as an experiment by the British governor’s wife. They live on Van Diemen’s Island, a penal colony in Australia. Two of the inmates of that penal colony meet in London’s Newgate Prison.
Evangeline is a governess who is impregnated by her employer’s older stepson, and falsely accused of stealing a ruby ring and attempted murder. She is sentenced to fourteen years in exile on Van Diemen. Sixteen year old Hazel has been caught stealing a silver spoon and is sentenced to seven years at the same place.
Evangeline and Hazel meet on the four month sea voyage that takes them from England to Australia. Evangeline teaches Hazel to read and Hazel, having grown up helping her midwife mother, helps Evangeline through her pregnancy. Life is unbelievably hard for the women in both Newgate Prison and the penal colony.
In her acknowledgments, Kline wrote, "I’d twined together three disparage strands of my own life history to tell the story: a transformative six weeks in Australia, ...months I spent interviewing mothers and daughters for a book about feminism; and my experience teaching women in prison.”
If you’re looking for a well written historical novel about the beginnings of a new society, then you must read The Exiles by Christina Baker Kline.