Book Review #30: There There by Tommy Orange (2018)

Rating: 4 out of 5 ⭐️
Title: There There
Author: Tommy Orange
Published: 2018 (Vintage Books, Penguin Random House, New York)
Pages: 292 (Paperback)
Genres: Literary, Fiction, Adult, Native American, Contemporary
CW: violence, sexual and reproductive topics, domestic violence, strong language, alcoholism, guns
Link Here

My used copy of There There sitting outside on my coffee table in the early morning

I wanted to read this book two years ago, I remember when it first came out. Looking back, I have no idea why I didn’t read it. I remember hearing such good things about this book across the board. When I saw it in one of my favorite used book/movie/record stores last week, I knew I had to buy and read it. And I definitely was not disappointed! Now I’m more mad at myself than anything that I didn’t read this one sooner.

‘You know what Gertrude Stein said about Oakland?’ Rob says…. ‘There is no there there’, he says in a kind of whisper…. Rob probably didn’t look any further into the quote because he’d gotten what he wanted from it. He probably used the quote at dinner parties and made other people like him feel good about taking over neighborhoods they wouldn’t have had the guts to drive through ten years ago… He hadn’t read Gertrude Stein beyond the quote. But 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” – Tommy Orange, There There

There There is by what I can tell the first book by MFA graduate and writer Tommy Orange. This book is the story of 12 different fictional persons, each chapter in their own perspective, all eventually gathering in Oakland, CA for the Big Oakland Powwow, a large gathering of Native Americans from different communities. Each person’s story reflects a reality of Native American life, and their own personal struggles and backgrounds. This book was beautiful, and I was blown away by the writing and the stories. By the climactic end, I was a fan.

I’d clicked to download ‘The Lone Ranger’. Everyone agreed on how bad it was, in so many ways. But I was excited to see it. There’s something about seeing Johnny Depp fail so badly that gives me strength” – Tommy Orange, There There

Sometimes I forget how powerful stories can be, especially ones that are truly well-written and told from the heart. Any reader can tell Orange’s story and dialogue is told from a personal place, which made this book all the more special. The stories themselves were not depressing (though at times this book is very sad), but real perspectives based on fact to take in and digest. From what I can tell, this book was hopeful in the best sense, and was meant as a way to inform, and to keep alive Native stories. Orange has a unique voice, and really did an amazing job keeping this in a Native voice, and honing in on identity issues in Native communities. This book is definitely a worthwhile read, and I definitely recommend this one. It’s not only because of the subject that this is a great book, I believe it’s also in Orange’s passionate and observational way he tells the story.

If you were fortunate enough to be born into a family whose ancestors directly benefited from genocide and/or slavery, maybe you think the more you don’t know, the more innocent you can stay, which is a good incentive to not find out, to not look too deep, to walk carefully around the sleeping tiger. Look no further than your last name. Follow it back and you might find your line paved with gold, or beset with traps” – Tommy Orange, There There

The setting and focus is not something I expected. Orange kept the focus on Natives, not in a reservation setting, but in the urban setting of Oakland, CA and other locations, even before the powwow. He covers many, very real topics such as cultural and ethnic identity, family, addiction, tradition, violence, disadvantaged youth, and community. And this is only by what I can tell, by the way. Orange’s writing, dialogues and interludes of information were eloquently told regarding a complex topic and history. Honestly, besides being great fiction, if you’re looking for a really good book told in a Native perspective that makes you think, and evaluate what you know about Native American history in the US, this is the book for you. I recommend this book for everyone (well at least over 16+ because of certain subject content). Go into this one with an open mind, and learn. And get your own opinion on this one.

There’s a secret war on women going on in the world. Secret even to us. Secret even though we know it” – Tommy Orange, There There

I give this book a 4 out of 5! (I thought about giving this a 5 star rating, but as you all who regularly read my blog know, I’m picky about book ratings)

_Elizabeth


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