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Folger Book Club: The East Indian

Our May book club tells the story of Tony, a young boy kidnapped and indentured on a tobacco plantation during the early days of English colonization in Virginia.

Booking and details

Dates Thu, May 2, 2024, 6:30pm

Venue Folger Virtual

Tickets Free, Registration required

Duration 6:30pm - 8:00pm (ET)

Registration opens for this session on Tuesday, April 9 at 4pm (ET), with early access for Folger Members beginning at 10am (ET).

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Our May 2024 Pick

The East Indian
by Brinda Charry

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.

Why did we choose this?

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 Book Club

Our informal Book Club is free and open to all. Our picks range from historical fiction to adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays, encompassing a wide variety of genres—all sourced from a different local, independent bookstore partner each month.

Each session begins with a guest speaker exploring that month’s pick and highlighting items from the Folger collection related to the plot and themes of the novel. After the presentation, participants will be broken into smaller groups for breakout discussions, moderated by a team of staff and volunteers.

Guest Speaker

Su Fang Ng

Su Fang Ng

Content transparency

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

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

Capitol Hill Community Foundation
Junior League of Washington