Brinda Charry’s novel, The East Indian, has been longlisted for the 2023 JCB Prize for Literature. Scroll spoke to Charry about the origins, themes, and writing of her novel.
In the novel, Tony, is compassionate and insatiably curious, with a unique perspective on every scene he encounters. Kidnapped and transported to the New World after travelling from the coast of India to the teeming streets of London, young Tony finds himself indentured on a Virginia tobacco plantation. Alone and afraid, Tony longs for home and envisions a life after servitude full of adventure and learning. His dream is to become a physician’s assistant, an expert on roots and herbs, and a dispenser of healing compounds.
Like the play that captivates him – Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which Tony saw at the Globe during his short time in London – Tony’s life is rich with oddities and hijinks, humour and tragedy. Set largely during the early days of English colonisation in Virginia, Brinda Charry’s The East Indian gives voice to an otherwise unknown historical figure and brings his world to vivid life.