The East Indian by Brinda Charry: 4****

A meticulously researched historical fiction novel is author Brinda Charry’s first venture as a novelist and it is my hope that she keeps on providing us with books like The East Indian. It all germinated from a mention of an Indian boy in Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Nights Dream”, as well as a ships log that denotes that a boy named Tony was onboard a boat from England to Jamestown in 1635 and was the first known Indian to arrive in America.
The book begins with the hanging of a “witch” on the passage to Jamestown and it haunts Tony. When he arrives he is in a nowhere land. Not white, not black, he is constantly referred to a mud color, and is really not accepted into either world. Tony is an indentured servant (different from a slave) with a 7-year term of servitude before he will be freed. But his indenture gets transferred to differing individual – the sadistic Ganter is one character we will ever forget – and along the way he is won as a gambling debt with his new master being an outdoorsman. Together they strike out West to try and find the Pacific Ocean and for Tony as way back home to India. We get Tony’s backstory which is fascinating, as well as a look at his life in America where he toils for year and finally ends up an apprentice to a doctor. Tony finds love, and sometimes finds a lot of trouble as he ends up being on trial at a coroners inquest for the death of Ganter, a few years after he left Ganter’s service. Charry also paints a vivid picture of how even the indentured servants are mistreated as well as their attempt at insurrection in order to get sufficient food. Two Angolan’s also join Tony’s group of friends and since none of these individuals are slaves they are allowed in public areas and that was one of the interesting parts of the book – the differences inj treatment between servants and slaves. We also are treated to a lot of information as to the plants and herbs that were used to make “physics” by the doctor and Tony – I mean the research was out of this world. And yet by the end Tony is able to wed and the couple makes it to Maryland where they are treated much better, but Tony warns us that in America there is a difference in how you live and are treated as determined by the color of your skin.
A well-written, easy to read novel that shows us the trials and tribulations of most everyone who lives in America in 1635, but how difficult it is for one person who belongs to neither white nor black community.

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