So much sorrow as the characters in There There seek connection and struggle with identity…an honest and important debut!
Author Tommy Orange gives us a window into Native American Indian suffering and challenges with skill. We follow more than a dozen characters, hearing their stories as they prepare to attend a major Pow Wow, a coming together of Natives from all over. As we know, their land was taken away from them, but most have never lived the traditional Indian life on a reservation. They are interested in their own culture and history yet they know so very little about where they truly came from, the people, the places, and the rituals and traditions. Not knowing their past contributes to unsettled feelings, and a sense of belonging is challenging and often laced with despair.
Tony Loneman was born to an alcoholic and has some mental deficits. He deals drugs. He plans to go to the Pow Wow to steal money.
Dene Oxendene smokes weed. He takes over his uncle’s movie making project about Indians and their stories. He plans to go to the Pow Wow to interview Natives.
Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield lived on Alcatraz in protest when she was a child, with her mom, who died of cancer and her sister. She plans to go to the Pow Wow to see her grandson dance.
Edwin Black searches online and finds his long lost father. He plans to meet him at the Pow Wow.
Everyone is searching for their history, a means to an end and connection while battling despair, addiction, weight issues and social challenges. I found this book, a collection of integrated personal stories, compelling and tragic. Not knowing who you are can be devastating and hearing the words of a character who is half Native and half white, the struggle is evident as Orange writes, “You’re from a people who took and took and took and took. And from a people taken. You were both and neither. ”
With clarity and honesty, There There is a story of the urban Native Americans, an inherently beautiful people with a painful past and a deep sense of spirituality. I highly recommend this book.
Photo: © Elena Seibert
About the Author:
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.