The East Indian
by Brinda Charry
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Pub Date 09 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 4 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.
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Edited by Taylor Randolph