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There There: A Novel by Tommy Orange

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The BookWalker 'roams' the globe to discover books. Our list of emerging author standout includes writers from 'around the world'. Themes tackling topics from sexual trauma, financial malfeasance, war, corruption, modern politics, and digital bullying.

There There by Tommy Orange.

TOMMY ORANGE is a recent graduate from the MFA program at the Institute of American Indian Arts. He is a 2014 MacDowell Fellow, and a 2016 Writing by Writers Fellow. He is an enrolled member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma. He was born and raised in Oakland, California, and currently lives in Angels Camp, California. The author began writing There There in 2011 while he was working as a digital storytelling facilitator at the StoryCenter in Berkeley, CA. He was, at that time unfamiliar with the colony's prominence in the literary word. It was through a student at the StoryCenter had to tell him what a big deal it was!

This is the story

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 to 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.

What Readers Say

“When I first saw the title of this book, I read it as soothing words of comfort, but I had it totally wrong. Taking the famous Gertrude Stein quote "There is no there there," Tommy Orange explains that this seeming indictment of Oakland, California as a featureless hole in the landscape is not what Stein meant. Further reading of the quote proves she found her hometown unrecognizable as the place of her memory. The entirety of the United States could be classified as such, given the effects of progress perpetuated on native Americans by colonizers. Late in the book, the broken promises, actual crimes and genocide are related metaphorically through a story written by one of the characters.

And what characters populate these pages. There are approximately 12 main ones, each embodying a fact of urban Native American identity. These complex relationships form a patchwork that make the outcome inevitable. There is search for family, identity and place, many feeling marginalized and invisible in the urban setting they find themselves. Earlier chapters provide character studies that present the players, their histories and motivations, so clearly the prose flows and pages fly by, followed by an almost cinematic speedup as the climax approaches.Full disclosure - I began this book several days ago employing the audible edition, but found it was too rich and full to continue that way and had to begin all over again with a print version.”

KasaC, Amazon's Client

“What does it mean to be a Native American—often invisible in the U.S. tapestry? Documentary filmmaker Dene Oxendene, one of a dozen characters whom we meet in this book, gives his take (based on Gertrude Stein's famous quote about Oakland, "There is no there there.") He says:: “This there there. 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.”

Jill I Shtulman, Amazon's “It’s so much fun to discover a new writer with so much talent such as Tommy Orange. There There is centered around Native Americans and the current issues they and the rest of us face. There is humor interspersed with the contention in their relationships. The only thing I found difficult about the storyline is there were an over abundance of characters which made it hard to keep them clear as unique individuals.The triumphant part of the story is how clear the longings of the characters are. Another great part the complicated known and unknown blood ties between them. The brutality of the honesty between them all is wonderful yesterday near to heart breaking. The best part is how clear Orange makes the transformation of Native Americans from the traditional rural environment to the current urban setting. Orange is a new voice to watch.”

Cynthia, Amazon's


An Amazon Best Book of June 2018: What does it really mean to be an Indian/Native American/American Indian/Native? Orange's vivid debut novel allows a unique cast—ranging from teenagers to elders—to pull this question apart even as they add a modern layer of complexity: They live in the urban landscape of Oakland, California. The thrust of Orange's cross-cut storytelling is not to force his characters onto a strict plot line but to explore the varied ways of being an Indian and, more important, of feeling like an Indian. Fractured families, Oakland itself, and detachment from tradition make an Indian identity seem even more elusive to the younger characters, but it's a feeling that they unknowingly share—and that Orange wants to expose. As an amateur filmmaker says to a teen he's interviewing, "When you hear stories from people like you, you feel less alone." Isolation and longing permeate the page, lifted briefly only as the characters intersect at the Big Oakland Powwow, with chaotic results. If I have any quibble about the book (and it could be a failure of mine, really), it's that there are a few too many characters for me to comfortably hold in my head. But then again, this isn't a comfortable novel, and therein lies its power and purpose. —Adrian Liang, Amazon Book Review

“Bravura… There There has so much jangling energy and brings so much news from a distinct corner of American life that it’s a revelation… its appearance marks the passing of a generational baton.” —Dwight Garner, The New York Times “Sweeping and subtle…pure soaring beauty.” —Colm Toibin, The New York Times

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