cover image The East Indian

The East Indian

Brinda Charry. Scribner, $28 (272p) ISBN 978-1-66800-452-4

Shakespeare scholar Charry marks her U.S. fiction debut with a marvelous picaresque of a boy’s journey from 17th-century India to colonial Virginia. Tony, the narrator, lives on India’s east coast with his courtesan mother and her patron, Francis Day. After Tony’s mother dies when he is 11, Day arranges for him to travel to England as a servant. After his new employer dies on the voyage, Tony finds work in London as a dockworker and shelter in a boardinghouse run by a compassionate Bengali man. Watching a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Tony is fascinated by the “Indian boy” over whom Oberon and Titania compete, wondering if the nameless character is valued “as a child, as a servant, or simply as a rare thing?” Tony lives in England for eight months before being abducted and illegally shipped to the colonies to supply Virginia tobacco growers with labor. He reaches Jamestown in 1635, where he’s indentured for seven years to a wealthy landowner, then transferred to an even crueler master, but he manages to survive due to his bonds with fellow workers, both Black and white. 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. Agent: Eric Simonoff, WME. (May)