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 (6 comments total) 4 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, 2019 [8 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, 2019

This is this month's selection for the Indigenous book club. I really appreciated tofu_crouton's comments giving personal context to the book.

For me, one of the things I liked most about the book was also one of the things I most struggled with. The multitude of characters was an interesting in to the story and a clear reminder that there is no homogeneous, stereotypical indigenous story that is somehow true about thousands of people. For me, that's important to remember in my work, lest we prompt Walking Eagle News to write stories like this about our program.

At the same time, the multitude of characters made it hard to keep track of them all and understand the relationships. Opal Victoria and Orvil really stayed in my head, but I couldn't tell you from one segment to the next who the people were who were planning the heist. The other characters stayed in mind to differing degrees, and as I go to a pov chapter for each of them, it sometimes took me awhile to realize the pov character was someone who had come up in someone else's story along the way.

When the end came, though, I knew enough about the characters to wish there was more book. I would like to know how their lives changed once those family members found themselves together.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:38 AM on April 1, 2019

I couldn't tell you from one segment to the next who the people were who were planning the heist

I agree. The first segment from the point of view of Tony Loneman was so compelling, but by the time it got to the robbery, I had been out of his point of view for so long that I could no longer sympathize with him.
posted by tofu_crouton at 6:41 AM on April 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

I just finished reading this a few days ago, so I'm a bit late to post!

I also had a hard time keeping up with the relationships between the characters, but I just sort of rode it out and tried not to let it stress myself out? Tofu-crouton is spot on--the voice was the same although the thoughts and situations were different for each character. I think this made it even more difficult to keep track of all the various story lines, in addition to making it more challenging to empathize with certain characters. When I was looking up information online about the book, I read some article that talked about how the reader's confusion acts as a commentary on how so many Native people are missing important information about their family and culture. Certainly that is a theme in the book and reflecting on how my confusion was related to that theme made me like the book even more.

I also really liked the discussions about identity and identity erasure that happened within the book. I am white, but the feeling and stories rang true to my parallel experience navigating and embracing my sexual identity.
posted by lucy.jakobs at 10:58 AM on May 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

I finally got around to reading this and I really enjoyed the writing and the storytelling. It was powerful and painful. I felt that all of the characters were done a disservice, however, by the way it all wrapped up so quickly. There didn't seem to be a rush, and so very much seemed left unsaid.
posted by OHenryPacey at 6:43 PM on June 20, 2019

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