Exclusive: Christina Baker Kline discusses her latest book The Exiles, ‘I’m interested in the power of women’

Image of Christina Baker Kline and The Exiles book cover.
Christina Baker Kline’s The Exiles tells a beautiful settler story. Pic credit: Beowulf Sheehan & HarperCollins

New York Times bestselling author Christina Baker Kline poured her heart into her latest novel The Exiles. Her passion and love for the subject drip onto every page and her empathy for her characters never fails to keep her readers entranced.

The Exiles tells an emotional settler story that takes place back in the 1840s, located in Australia. It first introduces readers to life on a slave ship after a young woman, Evangeline, fell pregnant and is sent to “the land beyond the seas” as a form of punishment.

During her journey, Evangeline meets many strong women characters who assist her through her journey and pregnancy. HarperCollins writes, “Told in exquisite detail and incisive prose, The Exiles is a story of grace born from hardship, the unbreakable bonds of female friendships, and the unfettering of legacy.”

In a conversation with Monsters & Critics, Kline opened up about her inspiration behind the novel.

She shared, “I went to Australia as a rotary fellow in my twenties for six weeks and I loved it. I read about the history of Australia and that was really pivotal for me in a number of ways. Then I wrote a book on feminism with my mother and we interviewed 60 women. I’m very interested in the power of women telling their stories, especially stories that have not been told.”

She added, “The truth is, the history of our country and the world has been mostly written by the white men. I would say ninety-nine percent. The stories that I read about are significant, but they haven’t been written about all that much. I like rediscovering stories that people don’t know.”

Monsters and Critics had the honor of chatting with Kline about her writing process, the characters in her novel, and the upcoming television adaptation of The Exiles.

About devising her characters in The Exiles

Kline brought many nuanced characters to the forefront in The Exiles, documenting the tales of the underdogs and the outlawed.

On the ship, there’s Evangeline, a young pregnant mistress, Hazel, a midwife who was banned from her land for thievery, and Mathinna, a misplaced, orphaned young woman. Together, they find companionship in one another as they settle into their new land and face the difficulties that arise from being an outsider.

Speaking about her three main characters, Kline told us, “Mathinna was a real person. There was this Aboriginal young girl who was orphaned. Her father was a chief, so she was sort of a princess. She was royalty. And she was taken in by this governor, Sir John Franklin, and his wife, Lady Jane, as a kind of social experiment. They wanted to see if they could turn her into an English lady, a little bit like Pygmalion and My Fair Lady.”

Kline continued to explain, “So, they dressed her in English clothing and she learned French. She had tutors that taught her how to dance and things like that, and she did assimilate. But then in real life, they went back to London and left her and she was caught between two worlds. And it was such a tragic story. And it’s a well-known story in Australia, but it was not a well-known story here.”

Sharing some notes on Evangeline, Kline spoke about how she was different from the other convicts on the ship. The character was literate and “was arrested for a sort of not exactly something she didn’t exactly do.”

Kline’s love for her characters was easily conveyed during our conversation as she animatedly dug into the backstories of her characters.

Sharing her thoughts on Hazel, Kline said, “Hazel was scrappy and the daughter of a midwife. She knew how to use potions and could barter, people wanted her help getting better when they were ill. And so she had these marketable skills and she was also just very scrappy.”

Discussing the television adaptation

Last year, it was announced that The Exiles has been picked up for a television adaptation by Australian producer Bruna Papandrea.

Kline shared that she’s “excited about it” and gushed about the amazing team working on it. She said, “I think it’s going to be very interesting. I’m executive producing, but it’s a team of people who are such pros. They’re based in L.A. and Sydney and they did Big Little Lies, Wild, The Undoing, and Gone Girl.”

As a last note, Kline hopes that the watching experience is “immersive” and stresses that her book was written for everybody — “I don’t see this as a women’s book.”

Watch our full conversation below.

The Exiles is currently available for purchase at Bookshop and Barnes & Noble.

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