The East Indian
by Brinda Charry
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Pub Date 02 May 2023 | Archive Date 09 May 2023
Meet Tony: insatiably curious, deeply compassionate, with a unique perspective on every scene he encounters. Kidnapped and transported to the New World after traveling from the British East India Company’s outpost on the Coromandel Coast to the teeming streets of London, young Tony finds himself in Jamestown, Virginia, where he and his fellow indentured servants—boys like himself, men from Africa, a mad woman from London—must work the tobacco plantations. Orphaned and afraid, Tony initially longs for home. But as he adjusts to his new environment, finding companionship and even love, he can envision a life for himself after servitude. His dream: to become a medicine man, or a physician’s assistant, an expert on roots and herbs, a dispenser of healing compounds.
Like the play that captivates him—Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream—Tony’s life is rich with oddities and hijinks, humor and tragedy. Set during the early days of English colonization in Jamestown, before servitude calcified into racialized slavery, The East Indian gives authentic voice to an otherwise unknown historic figure and brings the world he would have encountered to vivid life. In this coming-of-age tale, narrated by a most memorable literary rascal, Charry conjures a young character sure to be beloved by readers for years to come.
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 24 members
This is what great historical fiction ought to be. This book. Inspired by an idea, by a line in a Shakespeare play, fortified by extensive research, brought to life through vivid descriptions, exciting adventures, and most importantly, terrific, engaging characters.
What a debut. You gotta give it a standing round of ovation.
The East Indian is a story of a young boy who comes to live in the new world as the first of his kind. In this new world, Indian has come to mean something entirely different, and so his brown skin alternatively confuses the others and/or causes him to be relegated to lower classes of servitude. And yet, he preserves and proceeds to make a life for himself.
And so, from the coast of India to London to the shores of newly established colonies, you get to follow Tony as he finds his way. Despite his youth, Tony is as good of a protagonist as one might hope for in a book, and the characters he meets are fleshed out just as compellingly, the good, the evil, the odd.
It makes for a properly immersive, transporting sort of reading experience. A visit to a place one might not wish to ever visit outside of an armchair travel situation, but still…fun. Interesting. Exciting. All things reading should be. Recommended. Thanks Netgalley
A real pleasure to read a historical novel that explores new ground with a fascinating hero. The history of the early American south has seldom been written about and the East Indian brings it to life. Choosing an outsider as a main character also deepens the portrait of the relationships between classes. This is a book that has a lot to say about important topics.
The East Indian is a unique bildungsroman grounded in extensive historical research. Inspired by Titania's "little changeling boy" from A Midsummer Night's Dream and a American colonial record of a seventeenth-century man named Tony from [what was then called] East India, Charry's vivid novel tackles themes of race, class, solidarity, and identity. We follow Tony from his birthplace on India's Coromandel Coast to the rough frontier of colonial Virginia as he navigates the loneliness of life as an indeterminate 'Other' on the margins of English society. However, along with the violence and isolation Tony suffers, he also finds community among fellow indentured servants, a passion for healing, and a fondness for nature. Charry deftly balances the real-life injustices of the early 'New World' alongside moments of joy and introspection.
I really enjoyed this one. I would give it a 4/5 for personal enjoyment, but I'm bumping it up a star due to the amount of research you can feel in the narrative and the unique perspective that is much-needed in historical fiction.
Many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
I put off writing this review because I enjoyed the book so much I fear I wouldn’t do it justice.
The book tells the story of Tony, an orphaned boy who is taken from his native India to Britain, then tricked into traveling to the Jamestown settlement in colonial America.
The themes of “what are you?” “Who are you?” will ring true to anyone who has been othered. The book is rich with historical detail, and the winds of fate that take the main character through ups and downs of an immigrant’s life.
The sense of longing to belong and the striving for a better life resonated with me. The book has a good sense of pace and complex characters I enjoyed spending time with.
The East Indian by Brinda Charry is a grand historical novel that follows Tony, the protagonist, from his beloved Coromandel in Tamil Nadu to London and then to eventual life (as he is "spirited" away) to the new American colonies, specifically Virginia and eventually Maryland. Charry sets the scene with a quiet life in South India where Tony lives with his beloved mother and among the beauty of the flora and fauna of the region. We see what early colonial life was like and from which countries the intrusive colonialists come. We also follow Tony as he learns English and other useful cultural information. His growing knowledge about herbs and other potions that can cure illness are the beginning of his interest in healing people. Tony also emphasizes the importance to him of the Hindu gods, especially his most beloved, Ganesh.
The people Tony meets on the ship, a rather grim and realistic setting for the nascent start to servitude and eventually slavery in the New World, are of all types and characteristics. Once Tony reaches London, he begins to learn more about ways to help and make people healthy again, an indication of his future abilities to help and interest in helping those in sickness and ill health. At this time, Tony also sees the play A Midsummer Night's Dream which he will never forget, and whose significance recurs throughout the book.
As a dark skinned human being, Tony finds himself in the unenviable position of not quite being definable as an African or Black. But rather, he is most often called a Moor even though it's obvious that most people don't know what they mean when they use that appellation to define him. In the meantime, Tony is improving his language skills, learning more and deeper aspects of curing illness, and at the same time he is fascinated by what may lie beyond the Virginian shoreline. The trip west that Tony takes with his "master" and with two Indian scouts in search of the way back to India is rich in description and in the bucolic beauty of the forests and lakes and rivers.
The other aspect of the book that is skillfully and comprehensively crafted is the splendid cast of characters, some loving and admiring of Tony and others that are unkind and demoniacal. But Tony, likeable and admirable as he is manages to make his way through this thicket of personalities. Eventually he falls in love and creates a family that leaves us, as readers, feeling proud and glad that he can exist as a physician's assistant, helping others, happily part of his small family.
Thanks to Scribners and Net Galley for the opportunity to read this lovely book.
This engaging yet disturbing story about Tony, a young East Indian boy forced into servitude in Jamestown, is an unputdownable read. Narrated by his older self, we discover a young man with preternatural fortitude who is sensitive yet strong, hardworking, driven, and wise beyond his years.
This book is inspired by the earliest mention of an East Indian arriving on American shores in 1635. His name was also Tony, and he was a headright purchased by George Menefie, a man who made his fortune in tobacco. The headright system awarded fifty acres of land for every person, or head, brought to the colonies, and Mr. Menefie’s prosperous Virginia tobacco farm expanded on the heads of children servants and African slaves.
This story opens in India where Tony lives with his adoring mother. He meets a representative of Britain’s East India Company, who will help in find work in London when circumstances force Tony to make his own way. In London, however, children are being kidnapped and sent to Jamestown. Tony is abducted in that criminal sweep. In America, he will experience the cruelty and abuse for which this dark period of American history is known. What makes this story engaging is the character we find in Tony, the friendships he forges, and the manner in which he navigates his circumstances.
Brinda Charry examines issues such as the role superstition plays in justice, homophobia, wealth disparity, and country of origin/skin color prejudice. The indentured, as servants, think they are above those who are not subjects of the British Crown, which translates into white superiority. The place of origin also comes into play for an American-born Black slave who sees herself differently than she sees her parents. Tony will change his viewpoint in time, but even he arrives with prejudice, wary of two sophisticated African men because, he says, black skin sometimes signals the lowest of castes in his homeland.
We know that Tony will survive his tragic childhood, as he narrates his own tale, but there are too many other children like him who did not. This discussable book is perfect for book clubs.