Natives and Exotics

Written by Jane Alison
Review by Claire Morris

This novel explores these questions: Where are we from? Where do we belong? Where is home? And, if our forebears originated somewhere other than where we are living, can that place become our home?

Focusing on episodes in the lives of three characters, Natives and Exotics draws the comparison with the plants and trees that have been transported from their native setting to grow elsewhere: cabbage palms in the Hebrides, banyans in the Azores. In the 1970s, Alice lives for a short period in Ecuador; her stepfather is an American diplomat encouraging destruction of the natural habitat so that an oil pipeline and highway can be built. Thanks to her restless mother, Alice has had several homes in her nine years and will apparently have many more. In the 1920s, Alice’s grandmother, Vi, works with her husband to shape a home in rural Australia, but she dreams of hopping a ship in nearby Adelaide and visiting other places, especially England, which her mother spoke about as “home.” In the 1820s, George, Vi’s great-great-grandfather, is evicted from Scotland with his employer; they flee to the Azores to grow oranges and escape the brutality of the Clearances, only to find themselves caught up in the Portuguese royal family’s internecine war.

This is very much a theme-driven novel. Thought-provoking and at times extremely sad, Natives and Exotics will resonate with anyone who has ever questioned the true location of their home.