Thanks to Scribner and NetGalley for providing me with a free ARC in return for my honest review.
A meticulously researched historical fiction novel is author Brinda Charry's first venture as a novelist and it is my hope that she keeps on providing us with books like The East Indian. It all germinated from a mention of an Indian boy in Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Nights Dream", as well as a ships log that denotes that a boy named Tony was onboard a boat from England to Jamestown in 1635 and was the first known Indian to arrive in America.
The book begins with the hanging of a "witch" on the passage to Jamestown and it haunts Tony. When he arrives he is in a nowhere land. Not white, not black, he is constantly referred to a mud color, and is really not accepted into either world. Tony is an indentured servant (different from a slave) with a 7-year term of servitude before he will be freed. But his indenture gets transferred to differing individual - the sadistic Ganter is one character we will ever forget - and along the way he is won as a gambling debt with his new master being an outdoorsman. Together they strike out West to try and find the Pacific Ocean and for Tony as way back home to India. We get Tony's backstory which is fascinating, as well as a look at his life in America where he toils for year and finally ends up an apprentice to a doctor. Tony finds love, and sometimes finds a lot of trouble as he ends up being on trial at a coroners inquest for the death of Ganter, a few years after he left Ganter's service. Charry also paints a vivid picture of how even the indentured servants are mistreated as well as their attempt at insurrection in order to get sufficient food. Two Angolan's also join Tony's group of friends and since none of these individuals are slaves they are allowed in public areas and that was one of the interesting parts of the book - the differences inj treatment between servants and slaves. We also are treated to a lot of information as to the plants and herbs that were used to make "physics" by the doctor and Tony - I mean the research was out of this world. And yet by the end Tony is able to wed and the couple makes it to Maryland where they are treated much better, but Tony warns us that in America there is a difference in how you live and are treated as determined by the color of your skin.
A well-written, easy to read novel that shows us the trials and tribulations of most everyone who lives in America in 1635, but how difficult it is for one person who belongs to neither white nor black community.
Grab this for the astonishing cover, stay for the incredible story. This book centers on a boy from India who finds himself in America in the early colony days. As someone who reads historical fiction that is mainly set in Europe, I found this one particularly riveting. Charry has a way of painting her characters and settings that make you feel like you're really there with them and I loved the transportive nature of the writing. Pick The East Indian up for a unique story you will be glad you read!
Orphaned on the subcontinent of India, Tony is sent to London and then kidnapped and sold as an indentured servant. He finds himself as the first native from his country in the tobacco fields of Jamestown, Virginia. This is the story of his journey that encompasses love, friendship, cruelty, abuse, racism and so much more. First, dreams of home and, ultimately, plans to be a healer or medicine man after his indentured time is up keep him going.
I gave this one ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️. It was a very moving debut novel that covered a period not often discussed. I loved Tony's flawed but likable character. It was definitely sad but Tony seemed to always have hope in a brighter future. He is often torn between the right thing and how to get ahead. His lot takes many turns over which he has little control before the end. I was intrigued on the whole journey. This one is a must for historical fiction fans!
Thank you to NetGalley and Scibner for an advanced copy of this book!
The East Inidan is an epic story, and a very impressive debut novel by author Brinda Charry. It chronicles the life and adventures of Tony, as he travels from India as a young boy to London, then on to Jamestown, in the very early days of its inception.
I was very interested in the details of early life in Jamestown. I know my relatives trace back to Jamestown in this early era, and it was fascinating to read about the conditions. It seems that anyone who was not moneyed found themselves working as indentured servants, working for a master in their fields or home for years, to pay off debt for their passage. As can be imagined, they were not treated well and often taken advantage of.
Tony's life is hard but he manages to make the best of things and look at life optimistically, considering all he has going against him. He is often thrust into situations over which he has no control, like being sold or loaned from one overseer to another. Ultimately, he is able to take control of his life and carve out some happiness in the new world. Although there were places in the story, especially in the earlier pages, where the story dragged for me a little, ultimately I was impressed by the strong writing, well researched settings, and storytelling in the book.
Thank you to NetGalley, Scribner, and the author for allowing me to read an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
This book has a wonderful saga about the first "East Indian" to arrive in the U.S. I was mesmerized by Tony's story and the characters he encountered, how he was mistaken for Indigenous or people couldn't figure out if he was Black or not [talk about racialization in a different context!]. The precariousness of his life and the dangers he encountered felt real, and the author did a great job with building this world. I haven't read a book about colonial America for a long time, and was so fascinating to think about people's lives back then. I'd definitely warn folks about a ton of content warnings given the context, and loved his romantic relationship in the end. Really got captivated by this story!
I reviewed this novel for NPR.
"Just over the last four decades, there has been a slew of books about South Asian or East Indian immigrants — both fiction and nonfiction. Several have won awards. Almost all of them have centered on contemporary stories. Charry's "Tony East Indian" plants his own flag in this literary landscape. As he says towards the end: "Others of my kind will come here, and still others, and they will tell their stories, tales filled with loss, doubt, wonder, and hope. But mine, such as it is, is a first story."
Through this fictional first East Indian immigrant story, Brinda Charry has also beautifully pioneered a much-needed path forward into rich, new literary territory."
* Very sympathetic main character
* The depth of mythological and literary references in the different cultures represented
* Extended play on A Midsummer Night’s Dream
* Reminds me of The Moor’s Account by Laila Lalami and Washington Black by Esi Eduyan
* Depiction of the early days of the colonies that is rarely presented
* Moves just a smidge slowly sometimes
Thank you to Brinda Charry, Scribner, and NetGalley for an advance reader copy in exchange for an honest review.
Inspired by a an actual historical figure, this novel tells the story of “Tony”, the first native of the Indian subcontinent to arrive in Colonial America. After traveling to London from the Coromandel Coast with the British East India Company, young Tony is then kidnapped and taken to the “New World”, specifically Jamestown, VA.
What a captivating story this is! I loved MC Tony. Orphaned and sold as an indentured servant, beaten, overworked, harassed for his skin color, and worse, he is still ever optimistic and always striving to overcome all of the obstacles in his path. Longing for a return to his homeland, Tony is bounced around from master to master, finally landing a position as a doctor’s apprentice.
I loved the detailed, historical look at Jamestown. The author’s research shines through. This novel lays bare not just the hardships of daily life in the Virginia colony, terrible in and of itself, but also the inequities, racism, intolerance, and cruelty inflicted upon people of color.
The author beautifully imagines the life of Tony and his fellow servants/slaves. Her writing evokes empathy and understanding, yet builds a rage within the reader for all that Tony and his friends had to endure.
I so enjoyed this fresh look at Colonial America and I predict this story will stay with me for quite some time.
Thank you @netgalley and @scribner for this advanced reader copy!
A fast and enjoyable read centered on a young boy from the Coromandel Coast of India finding his way to America and weathering the turbulent period of settlement in 17th century Virginia.
This book read like a modernized Charles Dickens — story of a young boy, narrated by his older self, with a formal but lilting style. I always found Dickens narrators to sound a little precocious and humorous, and I felt exactly the same here.
That said, as Tony grows into his own in the American colonies, the tone shifts some and leads to some really beautiful passages about survival and friendship and loss.
Overall, a great story with some adventure elements and healthy doses of humor throughout. Definitely recommend!
Thanks to Brinda Charry, Scribner, and NetGalley for the gifted copy. The East Indian is available TODAY!
The Author’s Notes cites an Indian boy, a minor but easily forgettable character in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream as inspiration for this brilliantly conceived story of the arrival (and survival) of the first East Indian in 1630’s colonial Virginia. Buoyed by historical facts (which I absolutely loved), it is truly the author’s skill as an exceptional storyteller that conveys the emotional, physical, and psychological impacts that a series of globe-trotting experiences has on a motherless boy in search of home. This novel is a Historical Fiction fan's dream!
It opens in India with a very young, beloved boy who thrives in a village in the care of his courtesan mother, grandmother, and “uncle.” His mother’s beauty (along with her sexual prowess and charms) earns the the attention and benevolence of a prominent English merchant who also delights in the boy’s intelligence and inquisitiveness. Befriended by a priest who baptizes and renames him Tony - it becomes his frequently used adopted name and over time he forgets his birth name - one of many losses to come in his extraordinary life. As in these times, illness strikes frequently, this time in the form of cholera, leaving him orphaned, destitute, and depressed. In an act of good faith (and maybe good riddance), the merchant finds him a benefactor and Tony embarks on a trip to London (under the guise of adventure) only to arrive alone when his benefactor succumbs to illness en route. In London, fortune continues to alternately smile and frown our darlingTony and through a set of heartbreaking circumstances, he eventually arrives in the American colonies impoverished and emaciated in servitude against his will. Avoiding spoilers, the story continues with Tony’s maturation into manhood that mirrors Virginia’s struggles and warped development as an emerging colony. While Tony fends off sickness, starvation, brutal beatings and molestation from overseers, exhaustion from overwork, protection from the New World environs (weather, nature (and all that’s in it - snakebites, pestilence, etc) and hostile Native Americans), Virginia grapples with the increasing demand for bodies to clear the wilderness to farm and cultivate the highly desired tobacco (Tony witnesses indentured servitude morph into chattel slavery), wrestle with local politics, royal governance, allegiance to the Crown, disputes with Maryland, a quest for independence, and the unrelenting “Indian” problem.
The characters are relatable and full-bodied – I was fond of the majority of Tony’s friends – their hopes, wishes, dreams are conveyed in such a way that the reader empathizes and sympathizes with our unsung heroes and despises the loathsome villains. The landscape descriptions offer vivid imagery; the language and vocabulary choices are period-perfect (yet easy to deduce given the context for the modern reader , although I still researched a few). Highly recommended for those interested in the founding of America and the plight of marginalized/minority groups in early America.
Thanks to the publisher, Scribner, and NetGalley for an opportunity to review.
The East Indian is a novel about displacement, loss, longing, and adaptation.
This historical fiction and coming-of-age novel follows the life of an Indian boy named Tony, inspired by the real figure of the first Indian who arrived in America. It is narrated by the main character Tony, a Tamil boy, and takes place in India, London, and Jamestown Virginia.
The story opens by telling about Tony before arriving in America and then the challenges he faced on the new continent.
There are historic events highlighted such as the Indian massacre of 1622, and it mentions nonfiction characters such as the Powhatan warrior, Thomas Rolfe, and John Pott.
It was interesting to read about this period, I did not know about Indians during colonial America and I liked the way the author portrayed this time and how brings up the way Indians were merged with African-Americans and the relations with English colonists, and Native Americans.
Thank you NetGalley and Scribner for the e-ARC of this book.
A young East Indian boy travels to London, then America where he is serves as an indentured servant and faces racism and abuse.
Part adventure novel, part coming-of-age story, young Tony begins to see the world for what it is through the eyes of the other servants as well as his own experiences. The novel examines racism, colorism, and classism in the the early 1630s. I haven't read a book like this in a long time and I really enjoyed the historical context and the mystery of what could have been. Charry blends beautifully archival research, renaissance literature (A Midsummer Night's Dream), Hindu mythology and her imagination to illustrate Tony's thoughts, doubts, beliefs, and actions.
This is a beautiful and often brutal story of a young East Indian boy “Tony” who is forced into servitude in the 1600s. Tony becomes known as the first East Indian to come to America and because of his color he is seen as an outcast; he’s not black, not native, but yet not white. We follow Tony through misadventures, friendships and love. This is both a coming of age and a work of historical fiction and the young voice of Tony was one I had to follow. I really enjoyed the younger Tony voice and as he grew and saw more harsh realities of life, I became bonded to this character. There’s also a bit of early medicine that’s fascinating and after reading Lady Tan (themes of early Chinese medicine) it was interesting to compare the two books. Those that enjoy historical fiction especially surrounding immigration, medicine and racial issues will definitely love this book. It reminded me in some ways of Washington Black, Attic Child as well as Homecoming.
One of the books memorable quotes :
“The wall is to keep the Indians out of their own land?” I asked, when Ganter went into the bushes to piss. Sammy and Dick stared at my goggle-eyed as if I was raving. “Well, it is our land now—God-given to us,”
Genre: Historical Fiction
The East Indian is a novel by Brinda Charry that tells the story of Tony, a native of the Indian subcontinent who came to colonial America. Tony is a young boy who resides in India with his mother and Francis Day, who acts as her patron. When Tony's mother passed away when he was a kid, Day arranged for him to travel to England as a servant. In London, Tony meets a representative of Britain's East India Company, who helps him find work. Tony, along with a number of other children, is kidnapped and taken to the English settlement in Virginia. It is in Virginia that Tony will experience both the beginning of his struggle and the beginning of his rise. The novel addresses topics such as social class, identity development, coming of age, and race.
This was a fascinating book to read on a number of different fronts. The very first thing is that the main character comes to live in the new world as the first of his kind. He is known as the "East Indian" to differentiate him from the Indians, who are Native Americans. This particular aspect of the story served as a springboard for a wide variety of events and opportunities for storytelling that centered on issues of racial distinction and individuality, particularly during that era of history.
The coming-of-age aspect of the story as well as Tony's friendships with a number of the other characters, particularly Sammy and Dick, brought a great deal of warmth to the historical narrative. In spite of the difficult conditions that people of color were forced to endure during that era, the story does convey a sense of hope and the determination to persevere by demonstrating how Tony was able to turn his life around and become a physician's assistant and, eventually, a medicine man himself.
I am eagerly anticipating reading more books written by Brinda Charry in the future. This is a very promising debut novel. Her writing is stunning, and it pulls you into the story and makes you care about the characters. These characters are extremely well-developed. During the process of writing this story, the author clearly put a lot of effort into researching various topics, as the story really showcases the characteristics of that era.
Many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC of this book.
Although I lived in Virginia for much of my adult life, I had never heard of an East Indian man living in Jamestown. I was instantly intrigued because as a State Department brat, my childhood was spent in India. It's a fascinating story that will saturate your senses with details of indentured servants, slavery, and colonial medicine. The amount of research done by the author must have been staggering.
What struck me, however, were the similarities between colonial Virginia & modern-day America...racial issues, gender inequality, and the ever-increasing wealth gap. In Tony, we are painfully aware of the vulnerability of immigrants and the feeling of isolation. This book gave me a look into the past while making me acutely aware of the present. Well done, Brinda Charry.
Many thanks to NetGalley and Scribner for the opportunity to read this ARC.
brinda charry has put her blood, sweat, and tears into this novel and it shows. this is a heavily researched novel about an east indian boy that was mentioned in records from 1635 as someone who was kidnapped and brought to america for cheap labor. tony is not his birth name, it was given to him by white oppressors. as an indentured servant, he has more rights than slaves, but not by much. tony faces extreme racism, violence, and hatred. yet, he still connects to his past; india, his mother, his grandmother, and his religion.
this novel is an incredible work of art rooted in the shameful history of this period of pre-american history. i could not put this book down. i grew an emotional attachment to tony, which is rare for me when it comes to novels. tony is a good person, a good boy who did not deserve what was thrust upon him. his voice is strong, and charry has such rich diction and syntax that you can’t help but be enthralled in this story. this is a phenomenal novel, and i cannot wait to read more from charry.
thank you netgalley and the publisher for the honor and privilege of being able to read an arc copy of this book. i am blown away, truly.
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.
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.
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.