By Leslie Lindsay
A powerful, emotionally resonant novel that captures the hardship, oppression, opportunity and hope of four women’s lives—three English convicts and an orphaned Aboriginal girl—in nineteenth-century Australia.
~ALWAYS WITH A BOOK|WEDNESDAYS WITH WRITERS~
HISTORICAL FICTION SPOTLIGHT
Gorgeous, sweeping historical novel about women convicts seeking refuge and freedom set in the nineteenth century England and Australia.
AUTHOR OF THE PHENOMENAL #1 NYT BESTSELLER ORPHAN TRAIN
Instant New York Times, USA Today, Publishers Weekly, and Indie Next bestseller
SEPTEMBER 2020 “20 Great Reads” List, Indie Next
THE BEST BOOKS OF 2020, REAL SIMPLE
Optioned for television by Bruna Papandrea/Made Up Stories (“Big Little Lies”)
I fell in love with THE ORPHAN TRAIN and felt the anxiety and inner turmoil in A PIECE OF THE WORLD, and when THE EXILES was published (WilliamMorrow/CustomHouse, August 25 2020), I dove head-first into the lucid prose. THE EXILES absolutely swept me away.
Kline takes a trio of young women and makes them so whole, so flawed, so authentic, it feels like they are right there with you, an extension of your own family. We closely follow the story of young Evangeline, a London governess who is seduced by her employer’s son, becomes pregnant, and is (wrongly) accused of theft and murder … but there’s also Mathinna, a young, displaced Aboriginal girl, as well as Hazel, a skilled midwife from Ireland. But there are other, tertiary characters who endear themselves to the reader as well, including Dr. Dunne, Olive, and Ruby.
THE EXILES is a breathtaking, highly immersive tale and I loved every minute. Mind you, some of the descriptions–while gloriously done–are hard to stomach. Evangeline is sent away to the infamous Newgate Prison and her existence there is anything but luxurious. She, along with 192 other female convicts, are put on the Medea, a repurposed slave ship–‘a floating brothel’–but more aptly, a prison en route to Australia, where they will serve their time as convict maids, colonizing the island.
This story is a beautiful and ravishing as it is challenging.
It’s about oppression, women’s rights, opportunity, motherhood, sisterhood, and more. Kline’s obvious copious research is integral to the story and comes through organically. You can taste the salty brine on your lips and I am sure my fingers began to bleed as characters were forced to pick oakum from rope.
THE EXILES is richly imagined historical fiction with so many unforgettable characters; it will be one that stays with me for a long time.
But first, please join me in welcoming the lovely and talented Christina Baker Kline back to the author interview series:
Christina, Wow! I tore through THE EXILES. I felt so worried and invested in the characters, but the pacing is relentless, and the plot is unlike anything I’d read before. I always ask what the inspiration was for a piece, but I know you mentioned reading an article in the Mother Lode column about women convicts. So was that really the impetus?
Christina Baker Kline:
Sometimes ideas build slowly over time, and sometimes they come to you in a whoosh. This one came in a whoosh: when I read a short New York Times article about British convict women and children sent to Australia on ships in the 19th century, I knew immediately that I wanted to write about this little-known period in history. But it wasn’t until I’d finished THE EXILES that I understood why. My six-week immersion in Australian life and culture as a Rotary Fellow many years earlier, my experience writing a book on feminist mothers and daughters, and my stint teaching creative writing in a women’s prison all led me to this subject.
I’m also curious if this was the first thing you thought about writing after finishing A PIECE OF THE WORLD? For me, as a writer, I often think I’ll write about ___, only to find that when I sit down to do that, another story pours forth, or something else whispers, “that’s not the right one now.” Can you talk about that, please?
Christina Baker Kline:
I read that “Mother Lode” column while I was writing A Piece of the World; I started a file and began throwing notes into it. But it doesn’t always work that way. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that I need to wait for a really big idea, something that grabs me by the throat. Writing a novel is such a long, immersive process; I have to be absolutely passionate about the subject. At the moment I’m embarking on a new novel that excites me greatly, but I don’t know what I’m doing for the one after that. I am always afraid I won’t have another big idea. But eventually I always seem to.
There’s such a wealth of description in THE EXILES and it’s beautifully done. You’ve tapped into all five (six?) senses here and as readers we can truly relish in your research. Can you talk a bit about the behind-the-scenes work you did on THE EXILES and maybe a few fun facts that you uncovered in your research, but didn’t include?
Christina Baker Kline:
My father is a historian, so I come by my love of research naturally. In many ways, research is the most exciting part of the process. It’s all about discovery. But it’s the job of a novelist to use only the details that matter and discard the rest (or use them for background, for verisimilitude and nuance). I delighted in many aspects of convict and colonial culture that were not, alas, directly relevant to my story. For example, I loved learning about the so-called “Flash Mobs” of proto-feminist convicts who protested inhumane conditions at the Cascades Female Factory and intimidated the guards. I mention them in the novel – my character Olive is swept up in their activism – but because my central characters weren’t involved, I had to leave a lot of that on the cutting-room floor. I was also fascinated with bushrangers, renegade settlers (mostly ex-convicts) who lived in the bush and survived by their wits. They were notoriously rough and hard living, a more threatening version of the American cowboy, I suppose.
“Monumental. 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.”
— Kirkus (starred)
One theme that I love reading (and writing) about is displacement and reinvention. That’s what I think it going on here. These women have all been displaced. They are trying to recreate themselves. But it’s not easy. At all. What more can you add to that?
Christina Baker Kline:
The convict women were typically given sentences of seven years, 14 years, or life – but being exiled to “the land beyond the seas,” as the British courts called Australia, was essentially a life sentence. Very few convict women ever made it back to Britain. Like the children in my novel OPRHAN TRAIN, these women underwent a terrible ordeal, only to confront the stigma of shame for the rest of their lives. (In Australia, this was called the “convict stain.”) It’s amazing to me how many of these women went on to lead productive, fruitful lives. It tells you something about the resilience of the human spirit.
There’s another aspect to this, and that is that Australia’s social hierarchy was much more fluid than Britain’s. With luck, determination, and hard work, you could rise to heights unimaginable to those on the bottom rungs of Britain’s social ladder.
As a motherless daughter, I felt so strongly connected to all of these characters, and I absolutely love how you tie things together in the end. We are all nurtured and loved and shaped by all the women in our lives, not just our mothers. The metaphor of rings in a tree spoke to me, also there’s the concept of a ‘family tree,’ but also because of roots and growth, and a community…a forest of trees, if you will. Can you elaborate on that, please?
Christina Baker Kline:
A metaphor like that is so multifaceted. I thought about all of the aspects you describe: the idea of a family tree, of putting down roots, of new growth, of community and resilience, even the way that bark is a kind of armor that protects the wood underneath. It’s exciting when you find a metaphor that resonates throughout the book in different ways for different characters. It’s one of the joys of the writing process.
I could probably ask questions all day about THE EXILES, but is there anything you want to share that perhaps I didn’t think to ask? Or a question you’d like to ask me?
Christina Baker Kline:
Sure, thank you! Reading about your memoir, MODEL HOME, which details your experience as the daughter of a woman with mental illness, I thought about your words above: “We are all nurtured and loved and shaped by all the women in our lives, not just our mothers.”
Q-Christina Baker Kline: Did another woman nourish and sustain you when your mother was unable to do so? I hope you had someone like that in your life.
It has taken time and much self-discovery (and acceptance) to seek a nurturing and supportive community of mothers. That adage, ‘it takes a village to raise a child,’ rings true. I have a group of collective mothers. Some of them don’t even realize they mother me. It might be the grandmotherly person at the craft store who compliments my selections, the woman at the clothing store who advises or directs me to something that may work with my body style or complexion; it might not be a woman at all! Sometimes it’s my father, who was truly a Mr. Mom before it was vogue. It might be a grandfatherly man who says, “Class is starting soon,” and then holds the door open and says, “Someone’s gotta look out for you.” [he is not aware of my history]. It’s my yoga instructor, my fellow yogis who say ‘hello’ and ask how I am; it’s my book club friends; the older woman who cared for my daughter when she was a baby. My grandmothers are gone, but they mother me, too. I feel their energy, their love. I think it’s important to remember, that we may not always understand–or even like–our parents, even if they are still living. Family isn’t about blood relations, it’s about surrounding oneself with the people who make you feel loved, nurtured, protected, and worthy.
Thank you, thank you, Christina for taking the time. I so enjoyed!
Christina Baker Kline:
Thank YOU, Leslie. It was an honor.
Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by me, Leslie Lindsay. Follow on Instagram @leslielindsay1 #alwayswithabook #bookstagram.
For more information, to connect with Christina Baker Kline via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE EXILES, please visit:
I was reminded, of course of Christina Baker-Kline’s earlier works, particularly THE ORPHAN TRAIN, but also this one brought to mind Emma Donoghue’s newest book, THE PULL OF THE STARS (especially for the midwife/herbalist connections) meets the descriptive writing of Margaret George and also, perhaps THE OUTLANDER series with a touch of Lily King’s EUPHORIA for historical/anthropological/’native’ connections.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
A #1 New York Times bestselling author of eight novels, including The Exiles, Orphan Train, and A Piece of the World, Christina Baker Kline is published in 40 countries. Her novels have received the New England Prize for Fiction, the Maine Literary Award, and a Barnes & Noble Discover Award, among other prizes, and have been chosen by hundreds of communities, universities and schools as “One Book, One Read” selections. Her essays, articles, and reviews have appeared in publications such as the New York Times and the NYT Book Review, The Boston Globe, The San Francisco Chronicle, LitHub, Psychology Today, and Salon.
ABOUT YOUR HOST:
Leslie Lindsay is the award-winning author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA (Woodbine House, 2012) and former Mayo Clinic child/adolescent psychiatric R.N. She is at work on a memoir, about growing up with a mentally ill interior decorator mother and her devolve into psychosis. Leslie’s writing & prose poetry has been published in Pithead Chapel, Common Ground Review, Cleaver Magazine (craft and CNF), The Awakenings Review, The Nervous Breakdown, Ruminate’s The Waking, Brave Voices Literary Magazine, Manifest-Station, Coffin Bell Journal, and others. Her cover art was featured on Up the Staircase Quarterly in May 2020, other photography in Another Chicago Magazine (ACM) and Brushfire Literature & Arts Journal; CNF in Semicolon Literary Magazine; the 2nd edition of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA will be available late this summer. Leslie has been awarded one of the top 1% reviewers on GoodReads and recognized by Jane Friedman as one of the most influential book reviewers. Since 2013, Leslie has interviewed over 700 bestselling and debut authors on her author interview series. Follow her bookstagram posts @leslielindsay1.
Querying MODEL HOME: Motherhood & Madness a Daughter’s Memoir. Available soon: 2nd edition of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA from Woodbine House.
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[Cover and author image courtesy of WilliamMorrow and used with permission. Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by me, Leslie Lindsay. Follow on Instagram @leslielindsay1 #alwayswithabook #bookstagram]