Tommy Orange | Fiction, 2019
There There astounded me. It rearranges what you might think about Urban Native Americans and their lives, identities or lack of identities, passions, families, loves. Twelve independent people make their way to a powwow in the town where they all live, Oakland, California. They have vastly different reasons for being there, and different expectations. And yet in so many ways, their lives overlap.
Orange’s character development is magnificent. I feel as though I know some of these characters intimately ... and yet, I know them not at all, for their experiences are so counter to my experiences.
“You were white, you were brown, you were red, you were dust.” I don’t fully understand this statement, and yet, it feels quite important. I was surprised to learn about how different people saw themselves, as more or less Indian, depending in large part on how their parents/caregivers viewed being Native. Some wanted it hidden, discouraged, ignored. Some wanted it understood and embraced. Some didn’t care one way or the other. All dealt with their Indianness. “Indianing” by the way, is a word that Orange coined – (defined in my own words ) as taking on attributes or culture or attitudes or clothes or gestures to appear Indian, for yourself or for others. How “much” are you Indian?
Interestingly, while most of the profiles are written in first person, some are third, and a few even in second person. Fascinating mix. I wonder how he decided? When you read this, pay special attention to the “prologue” and the “interlude.” They inform the story significantly.
Another superb debut novel. There There is a book I could read again. I do hope you read and enjoy it. And please write your thoughts here.