Tommy Orange's breakthrough novel is a gut-punching examination of the complex history and inherited pain and trauma of Native Americans, as lived by Urban Indians in Oakland, California. As the Big Oakland Powwow approaches, twelve different characters each have their own reasons for attending. Some want to honor and connect to their culture, others seek family connections, and still others are looking for a leg up in a world that only pushes them down. The sad irony of the choices and motivations of some of the characters is poignant, and none escapes the plague of addiction and abuse that permeates their varied tribes.
At times, the many characters in There There were difficult to track, but I found that hardly mattered as the connections and histories were revealed. Orange provides no platitudes or excuses here; the view is stark and the indictments are harsh and sweeping. Not feel-good reading, but eye-opening and highly recommended.
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Tommy Orange’s “groundbreaking, extraordinary” (The New York Times) There There is the “brilliant, propulsive” (People Magazine) story of twelve unforgettable characters, Urban Indians living in Oakland, California, who converge and collide on one fateful day. It’s “the year’s most galvanizing debut novel” (Entertainment Weekly).
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. 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 back together after his uncle’s death and has come to work at the powwow to honor his uncle’s memory. Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield has come to watch her nephew Orvil, who has taught himself traditional Indian dance through YouTube videos and will perform in public for the very first time. There will be glorious communion, and a spectacle of sacred tradition and pageantry. And there will be sacrifice, and heroism, and loss.
There There is a wondrous and shattering portrait of an America few of us have ever seen. It’s “masterful . . . white-hot . . . devastating” (The Washington Post) at the same time as it is fierce, funny, suspenseful, thoroughly modern, and impossible to put down. Here is a voice we have never heard—a voice full of poetry and rage, exploding onto the page with urgency and force. Tommy Orange has written a stunning novel that grapples with a complex and painful history, with an inheritance of beauty and profound spirituality, and with a plague of addiction, abuse, and suicide. This is the book that everyone is talking about right now, and it’s destined to be a classic.