*If you are new here, WELCOME! For The Exiles, I provide your book club with a brief summary, a recipe, and discussion questions in that order!
Christina Baker Kline is the novelist who wrote the hit Orphan Train a few years ago. If you haven’t read Orphan Train, I encourage your book club to consider it for your list. If you have, I think you’ll enjoy the new book out by Christina Baker Kline, The Exiles.
The Exiles, like Orphan Train, is based on true historical events, namely the passage and establishment of English convicts to the island that would later become Australia.
The book, also like Orphan Train, is told from multiple intersecting storylines. The book follows two female convicts as they cross the ocean and eventually land in Australia and one aboriginal child as she is “adopted” by an English family on the island.
I really loved this novel and was fascinated by the time period and historical details as well as the characters’ stories. I was somewhat disappointed in some of the plot, but overall I thought it was a great read and worth book club attention.
There is plenty to discuss about The Exiles and with female empowerment undertones and three main characters everyone in your book club will find something to love. On that note, I’ve provided book club questions and a delicious recipe for The Exiles, so if you are looking for food ideas and more, keep reading!
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Here’s a brief summary of The Exiles:
When Evangeline is accused of stealing the ruby her employer’s son gave her during their illicit affair, she is dismayed to find herself headed for prison without an alibi and with an illegitimate baby on the way. She soon learns she will be sentenced to Van Dieman’s Land, Australia along with a shipload of other convicts. On the boat, she meets Hazel, a young woman whose entire life is whisked away at the cost of one silver spoon. Meanwhile, in Australia, young, Aboriginal, and orphaned Mathinna catches the eye of the Governor’s wife–a woman who loves “pet” projects. As fate intersects their lives, each woman clings to her fading, tortured memory of home and the small glimmer of redemptive hope that Australia might be a land of new beginnings.
For The Exiles recipe:
Luckily for book clubs, there is plenty of food mentioned throughout the novel, so, if you choose, you can have a buffet of options. Here is a collection of most of the food suggestions from the pages of The Exiles:
- Mrs. Whitstone lures the children away with sponge cake so she can confront Evangeline.
- Evangeline dreams of her old life while in prison—black tea sweetened with sugar with apricot cake and custard .
- The convicts’ and sailors’ rations on the ship—porridge (called burgoo), stew (called lobscouse), a pound of biscuits, a gallon of rum or wine, a cup of oatmeal, half a pound of beef, half a cup of peas, butter, and cheese.
- When Olive agrees to be Ruby’s wet nurse, Dunne sneaks her and Hazel food on the ship—stewed plums and mincemeat pies and fresh mutton as well as tea with milk and sugar and toast with blackberry jam.
- Before the kitchen fire that takes Waluka, the cook is making turnip pudding with cracklings.
- At the Franklins Hazel enjoys a real breakfast after her chores of slow-cooked oats with tea and toast and honey. She also relishes the smells of good food like fruit pies, roasted lamb, and tea sweetened with jam.
- After running into Mathinna at the market, Hazel and Ruby sit with her and Mathinna gives Ruby her necklace. They then return to the market for cherries.
- Maeve and Hazel serve Buck “mint tea” and currant cake.
- Ruby explores London and samples strawberryade and fried fish and chips.
I decided to make some variation of currant cake because I thought that scene with Maeve, Hazel and Buck was brilliant. Unfortunately for me, currants are extremely hard to come by in the United States and even more so when they are out of season. So, I had to devise another plan.
I decided to make a pound cake with currant glaze. I’m sure the cake Kline had in mind was more of the bread-like loaves from history, but, hey, we can choose to serve something more decadent! If you have access to fresh currants, check out this alternative recipe, which incorporates whole currants if you prefer to use fresh fruit.
Currants are a tart fruit and this glaze is tart as well. The tartness is cut by the addition of confectioners sugar, which plays up the sweetness in the glaze. You can choose to use currant jam or jelly in this recipe. Jelly will be smooth and jam will include some whole currants with seeds. I chose red currant jam instead of black currant jam.
The cake is a traditional pound cake with a slight variation–one stick of butter is substituted for cream cheese. Be sure to cook this cake until completely done or the cake, which is already dense, will be overly heavy and lose some of its appeal. Check doneness with a toothpick, making sure it’s completely clean when inserted and removed from the cake.
You can choose to pour the glaze over the entire cake or over individual slices if you have picky eaters who might enjoy plain cake instead!
Serve this cake with (real!) mint tea for a close-to-the-book experience! If you are looking for food suggestions for The Exiles, I think your book club will be happy to try Pound Cake with Currant Glaze!
Pound Cake with Currant Glaze
- Bundt or Tube pan
- 1 ½ cup butter (3 sticks) softened
- 8 oz cream cheese softened
- 3 cups sugar
- 6 eggs
- 1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
- 3 cups flour
- ¼ tsp salt
- ½ cup currant jam or jelly
- 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
- Grease and flour a tube or Bundt pan. Set aside.
- Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and cream cheese until well blended and creamed. Add in the sugar, continuing to beat the mixture until it becomes fluffy.
- Add in the eggs, one at a time, continuing to mix well after each addition.
- Sift and add in the 3 cups of flour and the ¼ tsp of salt. Mix until incorporated.
- Pour batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top. Bake at 325 degrees for 90 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
- Cook the cake in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool.
- Mix 1-2 tbsp water and currant jam in a small sauce pan. Heat over low heat until both are liquid and well incorporated. Remove from heat.
- Whisk in the confectioners sugar, 1/3 cup at a time, allowing the residual heat to meld the mixture together.
- Allow to stand for 10-15 minutes until thickened to desired consistency.
- Pour over entire cake before serving or over individual slices.
The Exiles Book Club Questions:
*WARNING: May contain spoilers!
- Did you like Mathinna, Evangeline, or Hazel’s story best? Which character did you most identify with and why?
- Why do think Evangeline believed Cecil loved her and why do you think she took the ring?
- Almost a third of the book focuses on the journey to Van Dieman’s Island and Evangeline’s story. After reading the novel, how did you feel about this? Would you have enjoyed the novel as much if it only focused on Hazel and Mathinna?
- When Hazel worries about telling Dunne about Buck because he lives by a more moral code, Maeve states “ye can’t know what code ye live by until it’s tested.” Much of the book implies this idea as well. What do you believe?
- Were you surprised to learn that a large percentage of Australian ancestors came to the continent via convict ships? Do you know any other facts about this historical event that you would like to share with the group?
- What were some of your favorite secondary characters? (ex: Maeve, Olive, Dunne) Which character did you dislike the most? (Buck, Mrs. Whitstone, Cecil, Agnes)
- Which analogy of holding the people and events you cherish resonated most with you—the rings of the tree or the shells of the necklace? Why? Do you have a similar way of collecting cherished moments?
- The Tempest is mentioned throughout the book. If you are familiar with this work, discuss what symbolism it held for you as you read.
- The characters undergo many trials. What was the hardest part for you to read and why? Do you believe they were unfairly treated, even as prisoners?
- After Ruby reveals Hazel was a convict to Dr. Garrett at the end of the book, Dr. Garrett says, “This is why we can’t leave the making of laws to men. They result in travesties of injustice that unfairly burden the poor. And women.” Discuss how this was true for the three main characters. Discuss whether or not it was true for Olive. What constitutes a judiciary system that draws that line fairly?
Have you read The Exiles? What did you think? What are some similar books from the era that you’ve read?
Until next time, Happy Reading!
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