There There: A novel

by Tommy Orange

Hardcover, 2018

Call number




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


Twelve Native Americans came to the Big Oakland Powwow for different reasons. Jacquie Red Feather is newly sober and trying to make it back to the family she left behind in shame. Dene Oxendene 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 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… (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.
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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.
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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.
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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
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this scene as evidence that we’re dysfunctional? That our men are inherently violent? That our peoples’ problems are all our faults?
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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
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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.)
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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
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history of a nation and its people. A glorious, unforgettable debut.
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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
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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.
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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
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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
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my skull.
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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
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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.
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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
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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 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 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
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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 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
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on a reservation), but there is nothing uplifting or edifying about Native American culture at all.
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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
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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 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
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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.
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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
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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!
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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
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a lot of pain in the Native American community in this novel, but there is also a sense of hope.
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LibraryThing member booklove2
I was expecting so much from this book, I might have put it on a pedestal that it could never live up to. First off, we need more native writers. This novel is like a loosely connected batch of short stories about mostly Native people living in Oakland. Until the end moves quickly between the
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characters. There are many connections between the characters but this seemed too coincidental, so it didn't really seem natural.
The book reminded me of 'The House of Broken Angels' by Luis Alberto Urrea -- a large cast of characters from mostly one culture. Though I tended to like 'The House of Broken Angels' more, with its appreciation of the smaller things, among all the sadness and hardships of life. 'There There' was mostly violence, crime and tragedy. I couldn't really tell what the message was here. The writing style seems quick and easy, lots of dialogue, not as poetic as I'd wish. Sometimes if I like the beautiful sentences of a book, how poetic it is, I can be more forgiving with the rest of it. With such a large cast of characters, it was even harder to see the focus, or to even connect to the characters when the focus is so scattered. I liked the book yet didn't think of it as a favorite as I was expecting. It's not an easy book to call a favorite. I will be interested to see what Mr. Orange writes next.
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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
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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."
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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
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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.
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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
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hope things turn out good for them.
Highly highly recommened!
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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
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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.
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LibraryThing member bragan
This novel follows a large and varied cast of Native American characters as they all converge on a big powwow held in Oakland, California, each of them bringing their own complicated motivations, feelings, and life experiences with them. But violence is heading there as well...

Tommy Orange's
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writing is amazing. The prologue alone, which describes the literal and figurative dismemberment of America's Native people and the ways in which they have adapted to survive, is as powerful a piece of writing as I have encountered in recent memory. He has an excellent feel for character, too. Even the people we see only in very brief glimpses feel thoroughly complex and real. The only thing I'm not entirely sure about here is quite how I feel about the ending... I wasn't really expecting all these life stories to be tied up neatly, but there's even less of that that I was anticipating. It's a little disconcerting, but then I think this is the kind of novel that ought to disconcert the reader a little, and the more I think about it, the more I believe that any neater resolution would have done the book a disservice.

In any case, it's sharp, thoughtful, painful, truthful-feeling writing, and I'm more than a little in awe of it.
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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
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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 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
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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.
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LibraryThing member kimkimkim
Acrimony is a pretty word compared to what Tommy Orange conjures in There There.

Children born with fetal alcohol syndrome, children born to children, children born to parents that leave a day later, children left to care for younger children, you know this isn’t going to end well. You can feel a
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quiet desperation, you hope you are wrong. You rave and sputter for a nation that has been so wrongly diminished, almost destroyed. You know the history; maybe you have travelled and seen the consequences first hand. You can’t begin to empathize, you have no basis. You can only weep.

This book is so well written, so very different, made me angry, and made me sad, left a deep hollow in my soul, it broke my heart.
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LibraryThing member brangwinn
Tommy Orange is a powerful voice in Native American literature. He’s chosen a challenging task, that of weaving together the stories of a large cast of characters with connections to Oakland California. These characters all have different stories and he skillfully brings them together at a powwow
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in Oakland. I wish I had taken notes about the characters because there are so many and each person’s story is different.
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LibraryThing member miss.mesmerized
It is all but easy to summarise Tommy Orange’s novel. There is Dene Oxendene, a young film maker who applies for a grant to realise a dream he and his deceased uncle had: give Native Americans a voice, make them tell their stories to ensure that they are not lost. There are Opal and her sister
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Jacquie, first as teenagers, later as grand-parents, struggling in a world which is not made for them. Edwin who is looking for his father and thinks he just found him on the Internet whereas his colleague Blue still doesn’t know who her biological parents are. Orvil and his two younger brothers who prepare secretly for a dance. And a group of young boys who prepare a ferocious and malicious attack on the place where most of the characters will gather: the powwow.

Tommy Orange introduces his novel with a prologue which outlines the Indian history. It starts with the first encounter with the coloniser and continues as a series of loss and suppression and ends in a group of people who have lost not only their land, but also their culture, identity and pride. The author himself is of Cheyenne and Arapaho decent, so he knows what he is writing about and he thus gives the Natives an authentic voice. Yes, it is an inconvenient truth he tells, but a truth worth reading and thinking about.

The title already is quite confusing, but Orange makes one of his characters give an explanation quoting Gertrude Stein who

(...) was talking about how the place where she’d grown up in Oakland had changed so much, that so much development had happened there, that the there of her childhood, the there there, was gone, there was no there there anymore (...) The quote is important to Dene. This there there. (...) for Native people in this country, all over the Americas, it’s been developed over, buried ancestral land, glass and concrete and wire and steel, unreturnable covered memory. There is no there there.

The Natives have lost much more than their land. And up to today they have been treated differently. A lot of things that happen to the characters in the novel – getting pregnant at a very young age, being addicted to alcohol etc. – also happen to people from other ethnic backgrounds, however, they then are considered the odd uncle or the eccentric aunt and the like. Looking at the Native community, those things are regarded as the normal case, it is not something that anybody would wonder about. They always live at the fringe of society, even if they complete school and get a degree, they will have to perform much better than a white competitor to get a job.

The most striking aspect of the novel for me was the trouble that all the characters experience. On the one hand, they are forced to hide their culture and traditions because they do not belong to the mainstream culture, on the other hand, this leads to a certain loss which is felt but difficult to express. They sense that they are missing something, that they need explanations which nobody will give them. Their identity is never really complete which consequently ends in serious disturbances.

Tommy Orange is a remarkable writer who gives his fellow Natives an important voice that absolutely should be heard. Certainly, he doesn’t shrink from accusing what the colonisers and the white ruling classes have done to the indigenous population, however, he provides insight in what this actually meant and thus opens ways for a hopefully better future. This will not be an easy way, but one that has to be walked together.
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LibraryThing member nivramkoorb
This is a book that has made many top 10 lists and it has lived up to its hype. This is Orange's debut novel. He is native American and this book deals with the urban Indian experience told through the eyes of many different characters. The main focal point is a pow pow that is taking place at the
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Oakland Coliseum. The books deals with the individual stories and the connections between the characters. It spares nothing in terms of detailing the problems that have plagued native Americans such as depression, poverty, alcoholism etc. along with having their land stolen from them by the good people of Europe. Orange has a good writing style and although the cast of characters is at times difficult to follow, you can always go back and forth and figure it out. This book will make you sad, angry, and most importantly educated into the unique problems that our Native American population face. Being from the Bay Area it was fun to read a book that centered on Oakland. A very impressive 1st novel and I highly recommend it.
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LibraryThing member Citizenjoyce
Octavia Butler wrote that she knew she had grown up when she realized that no one was coming to save her. I think Tommy Orange must be a fan of hers and of Annie Proulx. Life is damned hard. There may be occasional joy, and the Pow Wow offers it in various forms for all the characters, but the
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overwhelming fact of life is pain.I loved a character’s story of a man who thought he had befriended a coworker, but the new friend not only moved into his house and wouldn’t leave, he brought all his other friends with him and forced the house’s owner into a closet. All of us modern white folk may now know that the Native Americans got screwed, and we think of it from time to time, but the natives, in this case the Urban Indians, think of it every day. Not a happy book, but an engaging slice of life.
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National Book Award (Longlist — Fiction — 2018)
Dublin Literary Award (Shortlist — 2020)
Pulitzer Prize (Finalist — Fiction — 2019)
Audie Award (Finalist — 2019)
LA Times Book Prize (Finalist — 2018)
The Morning News Tournament of Books (Quarterfinalist — 2019)
Indies Choice Book Award (Winner — 2019)
Aspen Words Literary Prize (Longlist — 2019)
PEN/Hemingway Award (Winner — 2019)
Anisfield-Wolf Book Award (Fiction — 2019)
NCSLMA Battle of the Books (High School — 2021)
Golden Poppy Book Award (Winner — Fiction — 2018)
BookTube Prize (Finalist — Fiction — 2019)
Writers' Prize (Shortlist — 2019)
Boston Globe Best Book (Fiction — 2018)
Readers Retreat (Featured — 2024)
Notable Books List (Fiction — 2019)




0525520376 / 9780525520375
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