By Admin

“The perpetual quest for home is felt by the modern immigrant too” A Q&A with Brinda Charry

12 September, 2023

Longlisted author Brinda Charry, talks about her protagonist Tony, the parallels she can draw with her own journey, and her next novel.

1.The East Indian humanises a part of history that has not been explored in Indian fiction yet. The story of the first Indian who journeys to America, propelled by forces of colonialism and globalisation, is also a keen study on displacement and the lives of indentured labour. Yet, it is also a story filled with hope. How did you marry elements of extreme hardship with that of compassion and hope? And was it a deliberate choice?

Yes, I wanted it to be a story that mingles tragedy and loss with  more uplifting experiences – the  human aspiration for love, joy ,and fulfilment.  It is amazing and moving how humans are able to feel hope even in the most adverse of circumstances – and I wanted it  for my protagonist. Besides, he is very young, and, surely, being hopeful is an integral part of being young! Some of what he wants happens at the end, some of it does not, but I wanted aspiration and yearning to inform the narrative, to propel it forward.

2. Like Tony, you too were born in India and made your way to the US. Did some of your experiences seep into and influence the writing of this novel? 

Yes, that was inevitable. Of course, I was very aware throughout that my  own journey  has been very different, and has taken place at a different point in US and world history, but the sense of displacement, the anxieties and excitements that go with starting over in life,  and the perpetual  quest for “home” as experienced by Tony, is felt by the modern immigrant too,  though in a very different way, certainly. More than anything, I think I let modern experiences of the (East) Indian racialized identity   in the US impact the story –  Tony (like me and other Indians) is neither black nor white and it is a confusing, unstable position to  oneself in.

3. What/ who have been your literary influences that led you to write this novel?

Too many to list here – Shakespeare in very obvious ways – I refer to his work through the novel;  English novelists of the 19th century who wrote the first Western novels of adventure, of ordinary lives unfolding;  “post-colonial” fiction from Africa, Latin America, India, obviously; modern historical  fiction – Hillary Mantel, Amitav Ghosh,  where the writer grapples with the relationship between past and present, fiction and history

4. If you have to recommend 3 books one must read at least once in their lifetime, what would they be?

Oh, I don’t know if people *must* read any of these  - I wouldn’t go so far as it say that:  but in my list of favorites : Poems of Love and  War – classical Tamil poetry translated into English by A.K. Ramanujam, Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude, maybe a Shakespeare play (Macbeth is a favorite!)

5. As far as your writing goes, what's next?

I am working on a novel on professional magicians in the early 1800s. It was inspired by  a couple of Indian magicians (one being “Ramo Samee”   - Ramaswamy - from Madras) who performed his art for audiences in England and America – these people are possibly among the first “international” artists of Indian heritage – their story is quite fascinating. And the world of early-19th century popular entertainment is quite wild and wonderful!

About the book:

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.