Summary and book reviews of There There by Tommy Orange

There There

by Tommy Orange

There There by Tommy Orange X
There There by Tommy Orange
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  • Published:
    Jun 2018, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Meara Conner

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Book Summary

Fierce, angry, funny, heartbreaking - Tommy Orange's first novel is a wondrous and shattering portrait of an America few of us have ever seen, and it introduces a brilliant new author at the start of a major career.

There There is a relentlessly paced multigenerational story about violence and recovery, memory and identity, and the beauty and despair woven into the history of a nation and its people. It tells the story of twelve characters, each of whom have private reasons for traveling to the Big Oakland Powwow. 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 has come to the powwow to dance 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 unspeakable loss.

Here is a voice we have never heard - a voice full of poetry and rage, exploding onto the page with stunning urgency and force. Tommy Orange writes of the plight of the urban Native American, the Native American in the city, in 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. An unforgettable debut, destined to become required reading in schools and universities across the country.

Prologue

"In the dark times
Will there also be singing?
Yes, there will also be singing.
About the dark times."
?Bertolt Brecht

Indian Head

There was an Indian head, the head of an Indian, the drawing of the head of a headdressed, long haired, Indian depicted, drawn by an unknown artist in 1939, broadcast until the late 1970s to American TVs everywhere after all the shows ran out. It's called the Indian Head Test Pattern. If you left the TV on, you'd hear a tone at 440 hertz—the tone used to tune instruments—and you'd see that Indian, surrounded by circles that looked like sights through rifle scopes. There was what looked like a bullseye in the middle of the screen, with numbers like coordinates. The Indian head was just above the bullseye, like all you'd need to do was nod up in agreement to set the sights on the target. This was just a test.

In 1621, colonists invited Massasoit, chief of the Wampanoags, to a feast after a recent land deal. ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. The prologue of There There provides a historical overview of how Native populations were systematically stripped of their identity, their rights, their land, and, in some cases, their very existence by colonialist forces in America. How did reading this section make you feel? How does the prologue set the tone for the reader? Discuss the use of the Indian head as iconography. How does this relate to the erasure of Native identity in American culture?
  2. Discuss the development of the "Urban Indian" identity and ownership of that label. How does it relate to the push for assimilation by the United States government? How do the characters in There There navigate this modern form of identity alongside their ancestral roots?
  3. Consider the ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Orange's debut novel is a masterful new addition to the canon of Native-American literature. There There is a stunning portrait of the interactions between culture and city and family and freedom.   (Reviewed by Meara Conner).

Full Review Members Only (765 words).

Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. 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.

Booklist
Starred Review. Engrossing at its most granular, in characters' thoughts and fleeting moments, There There introduces an exciting voice.

Library Journal
Starred Review. This book provides a broad sweep of lives of Native American people in Oakland and beyond. Echoes of Piri Thomas's Down These Mean Streets meets the unflinching candor of Sherman Alexie's oeuvre; highly recommended.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. In this vivid and moving book, Orange articulates the challenges and complexities not only of Native Americans, but also of America itself.

Author Blurb Margaret Atwood, via Twitter
A gripping deep dive into urban indigenous community in California: an astonishing literary debut!

Author Blurb Louise Erdrich
Welcome to a brilliant and generous artist who has already enlarged the landscape of American Fiction. There There is a comic vision haunted by profound sadness. Tommy Orange is a new writer with an old heart.

Author Blurb Marlon James, author of A Brief History of Seven Killings
There There drops on us like a thunderclap; the big, booming, explosive sound of 21st century literature finally announcing itself. Essential.

Author Blurb Omar El Akkad, author of American War
There There is a miraculous achievement, a book that wields ferocious honesty and originality in service of telling a story that needs to be told. This is a novel about what it means to inhabit a land both yours and stolen from you, to simultaneously contend with the weight of belonging and unbelonging. There is an organic power to this book – a revelatory, controlled chaos. Tommy Orange writes the way a storm makes landfall.

Author Blurb Claire Vaye Watkins
There There is an urgent, invigorating, absolutely vital book by a novelist with more raw virtuosic talent than any young writer I've come across in a long, long time. Maybe ever. Tommy Orange is a stylist with substance, a showboater with a deeply moral compass. I want to call him heir to Gertrude Stein by way of George Saunders, but he is even more original than that. This book will make your heart swell.

Author Blurb Pam Houston
This is Tommy Orange. Remember his name. His book's gonna blow the roof off.

Reader Reviews

Jenna

Haunting
Heartbreaking and so important to witness the threads of history.

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Beyond the Book

Emphasizing Stories by Indigenous Writers

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, 5.2 million Native Americans currently live within the United States. But their stories are largely ignored by mainstream literature. In a world where literature is dominated by white male-driven narratives, it is even more important that we popularize and appreciate indigenous stories. I'd like to take this opportunity to highlight two of my favorite Native American authors.

Louise ErdrichLouise Erdrich's debut novel, Love Medicine was published in 1984. She quickly made a place for herself as one of America's great contemporary authors, but is most notable for her detailed and thoughtful portrayals of Native American communities throughout the United States. Part of the Chippewa tribe, Erdrich ...

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