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Historical Book of the Month – August #NFHM2021

August 19, 2021

August is Family History Month in Australia and New Zealand, and to celebrate, Alex from Family Tree Frog has come up with a blogging challenge that I cannot resist. The Challenge is to blog each week in August. I’ve chosen to blog weekly, about research that I’ve done recently into three of my direct ancestors. There also will be posts on other topics, between those research posts. This is book review post is my 6th post for National Family History Month.

This is the first in my new series of highlighting my favourite historical book of the month. That book could be either fiction or non-fiction. As a family history researcher, I always have a non fiction history book at hand. When I read fiction, my favourite genre is historical fiction, particularly Australian history and World War 2 history.

My book of the month for August is one that I picked up as a holiday read when we were in Queenscliff, Victoria. The Bookshop At Queenscliff is a must visit for me each time we’re there. I always leave there with an armful of books. The Exiles is one of those books, and sat on my bulging ‘too be read’ pile, until I saw that blogger, Jill aka Geniaus recommended it. I have previously read books recommended by Jill, and found we have a similar taste in books, so I immediately off the shelf to be the next read.

This post isn’t a book review, but simply an overview of this book and my rating. My star rating is not at all based on literary merit. I have no qualifications for that. I base my star rating on enjoyment. If I absolutely loved a book and couldn’t put it down, I would give it 5 stars.

The Exiles by Christina Baker Kline

The Exiles is is the story of Evangeline, who due to certain circumstances, finds herself being transported to Australia for a crime she committed. We follow her on her harrowing journey across the seas, after having spent many months in Newgate prison.

The young aboriginal girl in the story, Mathina, was based on a real person who was taken in by the new Governor of Tasmania, Sir John Franklin and his wife Lady Jane Franklin, as an experiment, to see if a native Australian could be educated and integrated into their life. I found it upsetting at times, to read about Mathina, but do realise this this was the attitude of the times.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Exiles, even though some of the attitudes from people in the early days of settlement in Van Diemens Land, did make me cringe. I have read a few books about Sir John Franklin and his wife, and enjoyed the appearance of this strange couple, in this novel.

The female characters were all very strong, even though they faced impossible situations in their lives, which had me crying for them at times. There were scenes that I found absolutely heartbreaking and the thought that they were based on historical fact, made me feel even more sad.

If I was to give a criticism, it would be that I wanted to read more about Mathina in the final pages. It felt to me that her story was left incomplete. For this reason, I went to the author’s website, and found a link to Mathina’s life story. The link is at the bottom of this page.

From the back cover: “Amid hardships and cruelties, new life will take root in stolen soil, friendships will define lives, and some will find their place in a new society in the land beyond the seas

I love this quote from The Exiles: “All of them fused together to give the tree its solid core. Maybe humans are like that, she thought. Maybe the moments that meant something to you and the people you’ve loved over the years are the rings. Maybe what you thought you’d lost is still there, inside of you, giving you strength.”

My only disappointment about this book, is that it fell apart as I was reading it. By the time I reached the halfway mark, all pages from the first half were unattached from the book, and in a pile next to it.

Publications details
Hardcover, 370 pages
Published August 25, 2020 by Allison and Busby Ltd, London

More information can be found about Mathina on the author’s website. It makes very interesting reading.

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From → Book Review

  1. It can be hard reading from the perspective of what we know now, yet I think it’s also important not to write the history from that same perspective – if that makes sense – in order to protect people today. Those attitudes are hard to read, but to revise them glosses over the pain of the people who lived through that time.

  2. Alex Daw permalink

    Ooh Jennifer – this does sound a must read. I will put it on my TBR pile and order from the library immediately. Well done you for contributing to the Blogging Challenge so much this month. You are a credit to the regiment 🙂

    • Don’t forget it’s you that his given me, and many others, the inspiration. I hope you enjoy the book. Let me know

  3. mollyscanopy permalink

    No doubt a difficult book to read and a sad commentary on the role of British imperialism vis-à-vis the working class and indigenous people of color. Good to learn that the book preserves these women’s stories.

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