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The Folger Spotlight

'The East Indian' by Brinda Charry

Folger Book Club returns on Thursday, May 2 with a discussion of The East Indian by Brinda Charry. To get ready for the conversation, we’ve compiled some introductory information on Charry’s rich historical novel.

What is The East Indian about?

An exhilarating debut novel about the first native of the Indian subcontinent to arrive in Colonial America, inspired by a historical figure—“marvelous…readers of Esi Edugyan and Yaa Gyasi will be enthralled” (Publishers Weekly, starred review).

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.

Critical Reception

“Through this fictional first East Indian immigrant story, Brinda Charry has also beautifully pioneered a much-needed path forward into rich, new literary territory.” —NPR

“By bringing a character from history’s margins and placing him centre [sic] stage, Charry shows the human impact of these great forces, in a book of fascinating research and measured rage.” —The Guardian

“Richly imagined characters and keen explorations of identity, place, and the power of imagination drive this luminous achievement. Readers of Esi Edugyan and Yaa Gyasi will be enthralled.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Why did we choose this book?

The Folger Shakespeare Library’s collection explores not only Shakespeare’s life and works, but also the plays’ historical context, source material, critical and performance histories, and the ways in which they inspire and are adapted by contemporary novelists.

The East Indian is threaded through with Tony’s reminisces of seeing Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream which colors how he processes his new life in colonial Jamestown. Continuing to explore new perspectives through our ‘What’s Your Story?’ season, The East Indian asks us to reconsider early settlement of the Americas.

About the author: Brinda Charry

From Simon & Schuster

Brinda Charry came to the United States from India as a graduate student in 1999 and has been living here since. She is a novelist-turned-academic-returned-novelist. A specialist in English Renaissance literature (Shakespeare and contemporaries), she has published numerous books and articles in that field. The East Indian is her first novel published in the United States. She currently lives in Keene, New Hampshire, with her husband and dog.

Content Transparency

The East Indian includes references to potentially sensitive subjects. Expand below for a list of content.

May’s Bookstore Partner

This month we are excited to partner again with Duende District, a bookstore for and by people of color, where all are welcome.

Duende District is a boutique pop-up bookstore that specializes in the best new adult and children’s books by Black and brown authors in English and Spanish, with locations in Washington, D.C., and Albuquerque, New Mexico.

You can find them online at Let’s build community.


Purchase your copy of The East Indian

We would like to thank the following organizations for their generous support of this program

Capitol Hill Community Foundation
Junior League of Washington

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