There There

Tommy Orange | Fiction, 2019

304 pages


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.


8 responses on “There There

  1. Donna

    Thanks for the review, Andrea. For the past 2 weeks I’ve been trying to get the book via my online library system but no one has a copy yet. I’m looking forward to reading it. The two people who recommended it to me also would have given it your 4-heart rating

  2. Daniel Murphy

    Hard to add much to Andrea’s excellent review. I, too, was astounded by this book. Though it wasn’t ultimately selected, There, There was considered for Deschutes Public Library’s Novel Idea community read during the year it was first published. Some of the reasons it was rejected, after some hot debate, were actually reasons that I found it to me my favorite book of the year. Some of the panel members found the narrative to be TOO piercing, too direct in portraying the life of urban Indians (no quibbling, please over Indian versus Native American, many Native Americans are quite comfortable with the term Indian). Other panel members felt that the topic matter, involving an urban setting, was not relevant to more rural Central Oregon. I felt the book was about a relevant as the modern novel can get. To say much more would rob the reader of the electrifying experience that this novel represents to anyone that is willing to look at their own country through a different set of prisms/lenses.

    1. Andrea Sigetich Post author

      As always, please read Dan’s insightful commentary. Thanks, Dan, for being a superb reader in my life!

  3. Rene

    I agree it was an excellent book, and one that opened my eyes to the idea of Urban Indians. I found it to be quite a melancholy read, but agree that the character development was excellent. I gave it 4 out of 5 stars. (I use a 5-star rating.)

  4. Rene

    I enjoyed the book too, but not as much as you. It was a little too melancholy for me at this time. I agree that there was good character development. I was interested in seeing a more personal look into the urban Native American. I lived and worked in Oakland many years ago and vaguely remembered some of the places. But it broke my heart and I can’t say I enjoyed it. So while it was well written about a subject that needed to be written about, I only gave it 3-1/2 stars out of 5. (I don’t usually give 1/2s, but I couldn’t quite give it a 4 and it deserved more than a 3 IMHO. I really enjoyed your review!