There There: A novel

by Tommy Orange

Hardcover, 2018

Call number





Knopf (2018), Edition: First Edition, 304 pages


"Not since Sherman Alexie's The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven and Louise Erdrich's Love Medicine has such a powerful and urgent Native American voice exploded onto the landscape of contemporary fiction. Tommy Orange's There There introduces a brilliant new author at the start of a major career. "We all came to the powwow for different reasons. The messy, dangling threads of our lives got pulled into a braid--tied to the back of everything we'd been doing all along to get us here. There will be death and playing dead, there will be screams and unbearable silences, forever-silences, and a kind of time-travel, at the moment the gunshots start, when we look around and see ourselves as we are, in our regalia, and something in our blood will recoil then boil hot enough to burn through time and place and memory. We'll go back to where we came from, when we were people running from bullets at the end of that old world. The tragedy of it all will be unspeakable, that we've been fighting for decades to be recognized as a present-tense people, modern and relevant, only to die in the grass wearing feathers." Jacquie Red Feather is newly sober and trying to make it back to the family she left behind in shame in Oakland. Dene Oxedrene is pulling his life together after his uncle's death and has come to work the powwow and to honor his uncle's memory. Edwin Frank has come to find his true father. Bobby Big Medicine has come to drum the Grand Entry. Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield has come to watch her nephew Orvil Red Feather; Orvil has taught himself Indian dance through YouTube videos, and he has come to the Big Oakland Powwow to dance in public for the very first time. Tony Loneman is a young Native American boy whose future seems destined to be as bleak as his past, and he has come to the Powwow with darker intentions--intentions that will destroy the lives of everyone in his path. Fierce, angry, funny, groundbreaking--Tommy Orange's first novel is a wondrous and shattering portrait of an America few of us have ever seen. There There is a multi-generational, relentlessly paced story about violence and recovery, hope and loss, identity and power, dislocation and communion, and the beauty and despair woven into the history of a nation and its people. A glorious, unforgettable debut"--… (more)

Media reviews

Characters here do not notice connections that might offer meaning even though they tell endless details. For those of us who may want literature to confirm human journeys, (or even reject them), this is boring stuff.
13 more
There There signals an exciting new era for Native American fiction. Orange lends a critical voice that at once denudes the reality of cultural genocide while evoking a glimmer of encouragement.
The network of characters in There There proves dizzying, but the multivocal nature of the book is a purposeful, intelligent strategy. It offers a glimpse of an interconnected life, a world in which small stones don’t just sink to the bottom of the sea but change tides.
This is a trim and powerful book, a careful exploration of identity and meaning in a world that makes it hard to define either.
The idea of unsettlement and ambiguity, of being caught between two worlds, of living a life that is disfigured by loss and the memory of loss, but also by confusion, distraction and unease, impels some of the characters, and allows the sound of the brain on fire to become dense with dissonance. Orange’s characters are, however, also nourished by the ordinary possibilities of the present, by common desires and feelings. This mixture gives their experience, when it is put under pressure, depth and a sort of richness.
Here's the thing about There There, the debut novel by Native American author Tommy Orange: Even if the rest of its story were just so-so — and it's much more than that — the novel's prologue would make this book worth reading.
If There There is at times an angry and demanding book (keeping track of the characters’ relation to one another is a challenge in itself), it is also a humane one.
If anything, there’s too much intrigue here to truly do justice to them all, but what remains is the fierce drive “to be recognized as a present-tense people, modern and relevant, alive.”
True, “There There” is also a sad book — devastating, actually. It’s also entirely unsentimental about it, and that exquisite mix of unflinching anger and sadness and humor is the source of its power.
As a reader whose family gatherings revolve around my community’s local pow-wow every year, it was particularly difficult to see this setting used as the backdrop for such violence, especially considering young Indigenous men are the ones who ultimately enact it. Will non-Indigenous readers see this scene as evidence that we’re dysfunctional? That our men are inherently violent? That our peoples’ problems are all our faults?
Everything about “There There” acknowledges a brutal legacy of subjugation — and shatters it. Even the book’s challenging structure is a performance of determined resistance. This is a work of fiction, but Orange opens with a white-hot essay. With the glide of a masterful stand-up comic and the depth of a seasoned historian, Orange rifles through our national storehouse of atrocities and slurs, alluding to figures from Col. John Chivington to John Wayne. References that initially seem disjointed soon twine into a rope on which the beads of American hatred are strung. (Whoever is editing this year’s collection of “The Best American Essays,” please don’t pass over this prologue just because it’s in a novel.)
The propulsion of both the overall narrative and its players are breathtaking as Orange unpacks how decisions of the past mold the present, resulting in a haunting and gripping story.
The plot of the book is almost impossible to encapsulate, but that’s part of its power. At the same time, the narrative moves forward with propulsive force.
Tommy Orange's first novel is a wondrous and shattering portrait of an America few of us have ever seen. There There is a multi-generational, relentlessly paced story about violence and recovery, hope and loss, identity and power, dislocation and communion, and the beauty and despair woven into the history of a nation and its people. A glorious, unforgettable debut.

User reviews

LibraryThing member lisapeet
This is a great debut novel—an abundance of outstanding writing, and I think Orange paints his overall picture of 21st century Indian life in Oakland really skillfully. Because there are so many characters to care about, I found myself more invested in some than others, as I guess is to be expected—I agree with a friend that an Opal and Jacquie book would be excellent, and I also wanted to hear more from Orvil and Thomas Frank. Also agree that the ending—another friend termed it a vortex, which is a good word—feels a bit inevitable by the end, with all the machinations to bring everyone there. But I can also imagine Orange wanting to end all that careful plotting super decisively, and it was definitely that. Also I enjoyed seeing his treatment of current technology as both plot points and wallpaper. Anyway, very good stuff and I very much look forward to whatever he might do next.… (more)
LibraryThing member msf59
“Maxine makes me read her Indian stuff that I don’t always get. I like it, though, because when I do get it, I get it way down at that place where it hurts but feels better because you feel it, something you couldn’t feel before reading it, that makes you feel less alone, and like it’s not gonna hurt as much anymore.”

“We stayed because the city sounds like a war, and you can’t leave a war once you’ve been, you can only keep it at bay”

This multi-generational novel focuses on twelve Native American characters, all living a hard-scrabble life in the environs of Oakland. All these characters are planning on attending the Big Oakland Pow Wow. How each of these people make this journey and cross paths with each other, is the heart of this story.
This is a stunning debut. The writing is fierce, angry and poetic. There is beauty in these characters, but also a dark sadness, as they try desperately to survive and find an identity. We have a strong new voice, in our literary world. Move over Sherman Alexie, there is a new guy in town.
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LibraryThing member richardderus
Pearl Ruled @ p44

Due back at the library tomorrow and I just can't.

Nice writing, but I am not blown away the way so many are. I'm sure it's me. If, in future, the Kindle edition goes on sale, I'll buy it (IF it's under $3.99) but I have fewer eyeblinks ahead than I'd need to cram this bad boy into my skull.… (more)
LibraryThing member lauralkeet
The wound that was made when white people came and took all that they took has never healed. An unattended wound gets infected. Becomes a new kind of wound like the history of what actually happened became a new kind of history. All these stories that we haven’t been telling all this time, that we haven’t been listening to, are just part of what we need to heal. Not that we’re broken. And don’t make the mistake of calling us resilient. To not have been destroyed, to not have given up, to have survived, is no badge of honor. Would you call an attempted murder victim resilient?

There There is a magnificent debut novel about the Native American community. Not the Native Americans of colonial American history, but the modern urban Native American. It is set in Oakland, California where, as in other parts of the country, ancestral land has been buried by pavement and real estate development. As Gertrude Stein wrote, “There is no there, there.” Each chapter is narrated by one of about a dozen characters. Orvil is a teenage boy secretly learning Indian dance from YouTube videos. Jacquie is a middle-aged recovering alcoholic whose grandchildren are being raised by her sister, Opal. Dene recently received a grant to film Native Americans’ personal stories. Edwin is an unemployed college graduate who spends hours in his bedroom, addicted to the internet. And so on. Every single person has felt the impact of poverty, addiction, or violence, and sometimes all three. There is a lot of heartbreak, and a tiny bit of hope.

The characters' narratives could get confusing, but tiny details begin to connect their stories in pleasing “aha moments.” Everyone is converging on the Great Oakland Powwow, some to help organize the event, others to discover their heritage. The Powwow leads some characters to connect with each other. But there are also some “missed connections” left for another time, because it soon becomes clear that something significant will happen at the Powwow that will have a lasting impact on the entire Native American community. It is somehow fitting that Tommy Orange leaves some of that impact unsaid, enabling the reader to imagine the possible futures for these people.… (more)
LibraryThing member kcshankd
This is very well done. You can anticipate the story happening as it unfolds, and yet the author still manages to surprise. I was dreading the ending and yet couldn't stop reading.
LibraryThing member thewanderingjew
There, There, Tommy Orange, author; Darrell Dennis, Shaun Taylor-Corbett, Alma Ceurvo, Kyla Garcia, narrators
This is a good novel, but it is very heavy, so readers beware, be prepared. It is not a feel good book. It will take you places you might not want to go. The Native American Indian experience is explored with intuition and insight in such a way as to make the reader feel their pain, frustration, needs, loss, and hopes. The Indians suffer from the alcoholism, racism, unemployment and other ills that society brought to them.
There, There is about where there means. Where is there for them. For the Indian, the land was everywhere. The land was theirs. There were no boundaries; they lived where they found food and could provide shelter for themselves. The Indians love their heritage and try to preserve it with powwows held regularly. In this book, the powwow goes awry with a terrible and tragic event. The book leaves the reader with many thoughts that are unfulfilled. There are no solutions and no firm conclusions. Everything is up in the air as the reasons that poor choices were made are revealed and the consequences are explored.
Each of the characters had a flaw that changed their lives, each also suffered from deprivation of some kind, mistreatment of some kind, confusion and a knowledge that there were secrets in their lives that if revealed might hurt them even if they also set them free. The Native Americans were influenced by superstition, folk lore and the painful memories of what they had once had and lost when they were driven from their land. The book seemed to be about hopelessness, but then hope would appear on the horizon, only to be followed by despair and inevitable failure. There were some wasted lives, forgotten dreams, and nightmares that became real when circumstances merged to bring about catastrophe. Although they tried to rise above their problems, they were often driven back down by circumstances beyond their control.
The novel is well written, but it is hard to read because of its intensity. It is deep and dark. There are so many characters, it is often hard to follow and remember which one was experiencing the current trauma, but the overall effect of the story certainly makes the reader think about the plight of the Native American Indian and the injustices they were forced to endure. Death and disaster have unfairly followed them.
What does there, there mean in this novel? It is used in several instances with different meanings. I wondered what was really there, in the end, was there hope or hopelessness? Was there the place to which they wished they could return? Was it a nameless vast expanse where they could settle once again to practice their tribal customs and dance without the encroachments of modern society or did they wish to join the technological world we live in today?
Because this is the kind of book that a reader might want to reread or review certain parts, I believe a print book is better than the audio.
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LibraryThing member brenzi
A dozen Urban Native Americans, on their way to a Powwow in their hometown of Oakland, alternately tell their stories and thereby, characterize the lives of indigenous natives across the country. Damaged by addiction, alcoholism, poverty and violence, they each portray their life experiences in a way that is both heartbreaking and enlightening.
I was particularly struck by Orange’s incredible ability to develop these complex characters and because there were so many of them I found myself taking notes of the role of each and as they would reappear I’d check my notes and add to them. At a certain point, the interconnection of the characters began to reveal itself.
At the final event, the Powwow in Oakland, we are actually left to draw our own conclusions. Hardly my favorite way to conclude a narrative, but the power of the ending cannot be denied. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member pilastr
Read this as the spider weaves its web, make a character map as you go! Set in present-day Oakland, each chapter told from a different character's perspective with a central (apocryphal?) chapter unattributed to any voice. Not exactly the caliber of a Wm. Faulkner, Leslie Marmon Silko or Ana Castillo but comparable, Orange has some lurches but his wordcraft is very fine, it's story compelling and authentic. There some implausible marksmanship but thankfully no magic realism, readers are expected to keep up, for plot coherenece best to knock it out in one or two reading sessions.… (more)
LibraryThing member hobbitprincess
While I appreciate that Orange wrote about his Native American community through twelve different characters, this book was so incredibly depressing that it actually put me in a funk. I know that what he writes about is the truth in many Native American communities (this one is in Oakland, CA, not on a reservation), but there is nothing uplifting or edifying about Native American culture at all.… (more)
LibraryThing member wilsonknut
This is a powerful, heartbreaking novel. I love the structure of so many characters telling their stories, with them all converging together at one place and time. Each character has a unique voice and is well-developed. Each is searching in some way for meaning and purpose and belonging. There is a lot of pain in the Native American community in this novel, but there is also a sense of hope.… (more)
LibraryThing member ecataldi
This novel is explosive, disarming, and unflinchingly passionate. Indigenous debut author, Tommy Orange, doesn't just emerge on the literary scene, he's kicked down the door. Readers will be gripped immediately and compelled to finish this astonishing work in one sitting. I could not bear to put it down, the rhythm of his work kept escalating, unrelenting, carrying the reader on a tidal wave of passion, much like the frenzied drumming mentioned in his novel. Set in Oakland California, There There follows a cast of Native Americans through several generations as they deal with identity, alcoholism, abuse, passion, family, and friendship. Their stories slowly start merging as all their paths start heading for the Big Oakland Powwow. Their voices are distinct, chapped, weary, and still... hopeful. These characters and their histories will stay with the reader long after this book is finished. A jaw-dropping debut, I can't wait to see what this author has in store next!… (more)
LibraryThing member Carmenere
What an amazing read! Each chapter introduces a Native American and their particular story.
All stories converge in the final chapters and this is one of the very very few book to bring tears to my eyes. Very well written bringing the characters to life to the point where you care about them and hope things turn out good for them.
Highly highly recommened!
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LibraryThing member Lindsay_W
Tommy Orange weaves together a diverse cast of urban Indigenous characters who come together at the Big Oakland Powwow. Each character is struggling to heal from wounds that had their origin as a result of the 500 year genocidal campaign against Native Americans. Many of them suffer from internalized racism, and lack of identity resulting from having mixed heritage or no awareness of their heritage. Some struggle with the social problems that often accompany these afflictions. The Powwow for some is a way to unite with their family, share their stories, and express their culture and the memories of their ancestors that live inside them. For others the Powwow presents an opportunity to continue to enact violence upon indigenous people. The book includes a prologue that outlines 500 years of genocide against Indigenous Americans.… (more)
LibraryThing member strandbooks
There There deserves all the award nominations and top reviews it is getting. It is intertwined stories of Native Americans living in Oakland CA and what it means to be an urban Indian. Many of the stories are coming-of-age, while others are about nearing the end of life. As you can imagine there are some pretty heartbreaking and devastating situations, but also hope and love. I wish I had written all the characters on a notecard and mapped their relationships because I did get confused about halfway through. Although I rushed to the end, I want to read it again to get to know all the characters better. The ending is not satisfying in any way. I don’t know how he could have written it another way. I’ve thought through some other endings and they would have either felt false or I would have thrown the book against the wall and cried.… (more)
LibraryThing member Eoin
A bursting, sprinting, high-wire, whirlwind first effort.

Orange manages to fit together a dozen characters with labyrinthine relationships, overlapping plots, intersecting geography, and decades of time in a taut sub-300 page first novel without missing a beat. The book moves swiftly and lightly through a great depth of complex motives and emotions. It could easily have collapsed under its own weight, but manages not only to move but to race. Hard to imagine where Orange will go from here, but I am excited to find out.… (more)
LibraryThing member LyndaInOregon
A dozen narrators crowd this novel, each an Urban Indian, their only apparent connection their ethnicity and their determination to attend a powwow in Oakland, California.

As the date of the celebration nears, unknown connections begin to emerge, weaving together tribal identities, childhood experiences, and generational knowledge. And an immense, inescapable tragedy begins to build like a stormcloud on the horizon.

Orange is a writer of power and lyricism; his “interlude” sections, which are essentially essays on the Native experience, are utterly compelling. But he loses points badly as the climax builds and the reader struggles to keep the characters separate. Few of them speak with distinct voices, and one must depend on touchstones – that’s the one with FAS; that’s the one who was adopted by a white couple; that’s the grandmother trying to raise three boys. The guessing game interferes with what should be total immersion in the final scenes.

It’s still a powerful read, and a promising debut for a unique literary voice.
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LibraryThing member Beth.Clarke
A wise friend recently reminded me of the quote, "No two persons ever read the same book." My life experience of teaching on a reservation gave me a unique perspective while reading There There. I know these elders, these teenagers, these children. From the opening prologue to the final page, I was connected to the characters. Each chapter was exceptionally written and connected in same way to another part of the book. Nothing could have prepared me for the ending. This is an important book that must be read. "There is no there there."… (more)
LibraryThing member Gwendydd
This ambitious book follows several Native Americans living in Oakland, CA, whose disparate stories all connect at a pow-wow. All of them are grappling with their identity as Native Americans in different ways: some are trying to understand it, some are trying to reject it, but all of them are trying to understand how Native Americans can exist with each other and with white people in the city.

I won't give away the ending, but I will say that it was unexpected and I am still grappling with it.

The writing is excellent, although there are so many different characters that I often got confused about who was who, and every time the point of view changed I had to flip back and remind myself who each character was. Maybe that's a part of the quest for identity that each character undergoes.

This is one of those books that is going to stick with me for a long time.
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LibraryThing member KimMeyer
I can't say I understand the hype on this one.
LibraryThing member maryreinert
Each chapter title is the name of one character. This is a story of the life and culture of Native Americans living in the urban setting of Oakland, California. At first the characters seem unrelated to each other but as the story goes, a web connects all. There is much symbolism such as the spider web,reflections in mirrors or screen reflections and how technology is shaping our lives.
This is very much a current novel with many allusions to current culture.

I thought the writing in this was very good and I liked the connections between people. The ending, however, which involved an attempted robbery of a safe at a pow wow which turns into a mass shooting with guns made by 3D printers seems someone too confusing to me. I'll have to give that some thought.
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LibraryThing member Narshkite
I read a lot, arguably too much, and while that teaches me many things, and builds my critical acumen it also means that these days I seem to never have those glorious epiphanic moments where something seems absolutely new and original and perspective changing. I mention that because I had that moment here, actually several of those moments, and it was thrilling.

The story's structure recalled for me Canterbury Tales. We learn the stories of the many people making their own brand of pilgrimage to the Oakland Powwow, how and why they got there, and why it matters. I was pretty sure about 2/3 into the book how this was going to end, and for the most part I was right, but that did not diminish my pleasure or absorption in the story one bit. There is a moment where the story is playing out, right at the end, where someone thinks about whether an event is really occurring or whether it is essentially a performance art piece illustrating the fate of Native Americans. And the weird part is that the thing is really happening, and though sadly not performance art, it is a pretty solid and ghastly metaphor that would have made a perfect performance art piece if it hadn't happened.

There There is so many things. Its a well-crafted and complete story, but also a historical chronicle (and rebuke) of all things NDN since the Europeans showed up (the first section is intense!), a series of sharp character sketches, an urban anthropological study, and a primal scream. This is a great first novel. It would have been a great 37th novel too, but as it happens it is a first. I cannot wait to hear more from Orange but even if his next book was a literary Ishtar his claim to greatness on the basis of this book alone is pretty freaking unassailable.
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LibraryThing member jghewson
Astonishing debut...powerful and fully realized story and so beautifully written. Reminded me of Barbara Kingsolver and Louise Erdrich.
LibraryThing member browner56
Among the kaleidoscope of narrative arcs comprising There There, Tommy Orange’s affecting examination of what it means to be an Indian living in a modern urban area, is the account of a young man whose job it is to record the stories of other Natives he encounters. This is a clever bit of meta-fiction because that is exactly how the author has constructed the entire novel. Starting with a prologue in which he chronicles the many atrocities and injustices that Native tribes have suffered over the years, Orange then develops a dozen or so more intimate portraits of members of the Cheyenne nation residing in and around Oakland, California.

To be sure, these are not uplifting, feel-good storylines. They are replete with the sort of misery, poverty, and hopelessness that engenders alcoholism, drug abuse, domestic violence, and senseless crime. Many of the characters are connected to one another—several generations of the same family tree are represented—even if not everyone knows how they are related. Also, as in most tales, there are both heroes and villains, although, to the author’s credit, the lines of distinction are not always obvious. The climactic event that brings all these threads together is a big Powwow being held in the city’s baseball stadium; it is not betraying much to say that this event does not end at all well for most involved.

Given his background, this was clearly a very personal story for the author to tell, which allowed him to write in such a closely observed and unflinching manner. The book delivers a powerful message about the courage and despair of the Native experience in today’s world, even if the ending felt too abrupt and left more loose ends than it should have. By the way, the book’s title also makes sense: it’s not “there there” as in the way you would soothe a small child, but draws on a quote from Gertrude Stein who, upon returning to the place where she grew up, found that the there of her youth was long gone. There was no there there anymore. That is a great analogy for all that the characters in this moving novel have lost, if indeed they ever really had it to begin with.
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LibraryThing member CaribouKai
The description of this book starts with "fierce, angry, funny, heartbreaking". I never found the funny bits, but it has everything else in bulk. It's a terrible read, not due to poor writing, but because you know exactly how it's going to end from the vey beginning. Think of the movie "Moulin Rouge" but without the happy bits between start and end.

It made my heart ache, knowing there are real people, many of them, that are in the same situations presented in the story. This is not a happy book, but it's a story worth reading and mulling over long after finishing.
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LibraryThing member RidgewayGirl
Tommy Orange's debut novel follows several Native Americans before and during a big Pow Wow in Oakland, California. Each of the many characters has a story to tell, and Orange gives them the space to tell it, not unlike Dene Oxendene, one of Orange's characters. He comes up with the idea of getting Indians to just talk about their life experiences, filming them telling their stories. He applies for a grant to finance his project, feeling out of his league in the interview stage, when surrounded by people with slick presentations. As the twelve characters in There There tell their own stories, Orange moves them purposefully toward the Pow Wow, where they will come together in ways both hopeful and disastrous.

There's a lot packed into this relatively slender novel. Orange has things to say and he will say them. Often when an author is angry or has a purpose behind his writing, it diminishes the writing, but this forcefulness works well with this novel of urban Indians navigating a world that has disadvantaged them without care or understanding. There are a lot of separate voices, but they sort themselves out as the book progresses. This is a remarkable achievement and I look forward to being broadsided by Tommy Orange again with whatever he writes next.
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