There There
January 2, 2019 2:40 PM - by Tommy Orange - Subscribe

Tommy Orange’s There There is the story of twelve unforgettable characters, Urban Indians living in Oakland, California, who converge and collide on one fateful day. As we learn the reasons that each person is attending the Big Oakland Powwow—some generous, some fearful, some joyful, some violent—momentum builds toward a shocking yet inevitable conclusion that changes everything.

Colm Toibin: "Yes, Tommy Orange’s New Novel Really Is That Good"

Rowan Hisayo Buchanan: "The novel grants each character the gift of complexity. It is possible to love and to be selfish, to have a limp and to walk with a swagger. These people have been hurt by history but are capable of causing hurt too."

Tommy Orange: "I did not at all intend to include a fictionalized self-portrait. I mean, all the characters resemble me in different ways, some more than others, but more resemble me than they resemble anyone else, any real person."

Ron Charles: "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."

Tommy Orange previously, previouslier.
posted by tofu_crouton (2 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This book's subject matter is very personal for me. I read it a few miles from a reservation, the one I grew up wondering about, wondering why none of my Native family members were associated with a tribe. It's the kind of closeness that makes it hard for me to read as fiction. At the same time, I have never been to Oakland. The discussions of parks and bus lines were like watching a foreign movie without subtitles.

Overall, I enjoyed the novel but mostly it left me wanting Orange's next novel. Every character thinks different thoughts, but they think them in the same voice. I like the voice and I look forward to a future book where Orange feels confident enough to abandon characters somewhat. The prologue and interludes were like that; he dispensed with plot and the need for it to be an intermediary between us and his ideas.

The theme that I'm still thinking about after reading this book is the way folks self-define as Native. White people are always claiming small percentages of Native blood to lessen the guilt of white privilege. It's a way of making actual Natives invisible. But Orange points out the flip side of that, Natives who erase themselves because they don't feel the right to claim their blood:

"And anyway, anything you hear from me about your heritage does not make you more or less Indian. More or less a real Indian. Don't ever let anyone tell you what being an Indian means. Too many of us died to get just a little bit of us here, right now, right in this kitchen. You, me. Every part of our people that made it is precious. You're Indian because you're Indian because you're Indian."

Identifying 100% as white or another race when you are half or a quarter Native American is another way of erasing Native history. Assimiliating Native Americans into white culture was one of the forms of genocide the U.S. practiced, so in a way, every history that goes uncrecognized seems like a form of abetting.

Other stray thoughts:

* This book used pop culture in a way that seemed natural and not like it's placing an expiration date on the novel.

* "If she'd ever found spider legs in her leg, she probably would have ended it right then and there." Same, gal. Orange says in an interview that this part was pulled from real life though. He did have spider legs in his leg.
posted by tofu_crouton at 2:59 PM on January 2 [7 favorites]

Nice review, personal and informative. Great way to start the ToB club entries. I am very much looking forward to reading this one (after I finish my assigned books, of course).
posted by OHenryPacey at 3:07 PM on January 2

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