There There (novel)

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There There
There There cover art 2018.jpg
Author Tommy Orange
Country United States
Language English
Genre history, fiction[1]
Publisher Knopf
Publication date
June 5, 2018
Pages 304
ISBN 978-0525520375
OCLC 1037018521

There There is the first novel by Cheyenne and Arapaho author Tommy Orange. Published in 2018, it opens with an essay by Orange as a prologue, and then proceeds to follow a large cast of Native Americans living in the area of Oakland, California, as they struggle with a wide array of challenges ranging from depression and alcoholism, to unemployment, fetal alcohol syndrome, and the challenges of living with an ethnic identity of being "ambiguously nonwhite." All coalesce at a community pow wow, where a plot is underway to commit violence.

The book explores the themes of native peoples living in urban spaces, and issues of ambivalence and complexity related to natives' struggles with identity and authenticity. There There was favorably received, and was the subject of a number of positive reviews.


The book begins with an essay by Orange, detailing "brief and jarring vignettes revealing the violence and genocide that indigenous people have endured, and how it has been sanitized over the centuries."[2]

As it continues into fiction, the novel alternates between second and third person perspectives, following 12 Native American characters in the area of Oakland, California.[3][4][a] It examines one character, named Blue, with "heartbreaking empathy" as she reaches the decision to remain with her abusive partner.[6] Another, Thomas, who is an alcoholic and has lost his job working as a janitor, wrestles with a life lived suspended between his mother, who is white and his "one-thousand-percent Indian" father who is a medicine man.[3] Orange writes:

You're from a people who took and took and took and took. And from a people taken. You're both and neither. In the bath, you'd stare at your brown arms against your white legs in the water and wonder what they were doing together on the same body, in the same bathtub.[7]

Similar conflict continues variously throughout the novel's characters. A teenager, Orvil Red Feather, turns to Google in a search to answer "What does it mean to be a real Indian,"[4] and in the mirror, wearing tribal regalia pulled from a closet, sees only "a fake, a copy, a boy playing dress-up".[8] Calvin Johnson confronts his guilt at claiming to be native at all, admitting "Mostly I just feel like I'm from Oakland."[4] Tony Loneman grapples with the fetal alcohol syndrome left him by his alcoholic mother, while Octavio Gomez remembers alcohol through the drunk driving accident that claimed his family, and Jacquie Red Feather faces sobriety from the perspective of a substance abuse counselor in the wake of her teenage daughter's suicide.[4] One struggles with his place in society as "ambiguously nonwhite", while another "overweight and constipated, has a graduate degree in Native American literature but no job prospects — a living symbol of the moribund plight of Indian culture in the United States."[3]

All eventually coalesce around a pow wow taking place at the Oakland–Alameda County Coliseum, where some have smuggled in 3D printed handguns, in a plan to rob the event to repay drug debts.[3][5]


We did not move to cities to die. The sidewalks and streets, the concrete absorbed our heaviness. The glass, metal, rubber, and wires, the speed, the hurtling masses — the city took us in. This was part of the Indian Relocation Act, which was part of the Indian Termination Policy, which was and is exactly what it sounds like. Make them look and act like us. Become us. And so disappear. But it wasn't just like that.

Tommy Orange, There There, prologue

Orange, a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, was himself raised in the area of Oakland. The title of the novel (despite taking note of the song "There There", by English rock band Radiohead in the second chapter) is a reference to Gertrude Stein's own description, in her 1937 Everybody's Autobiography, of an attempt to return to her childhood home in Oakland but finding that the rural Oakland she remembered was gone: "There is no there there".[2][5] For native people, Orange writes, cities and towns represent "buried ancestral land, glass and concrete and wire and steel, unreturnable covered memory. There is no there there."[2]

Writing in the New York Times, Alexandra Alter described the book in terms of ambivalence and complexity, quoting Orange, himself a graduate of the Institute of American Indian Arts, born to a Cheyenne father and white mother who converted to evangelical Christianity and denounced his father's spiritual beliefs, "I wanted to have my characters struggle in the way that I struggled, and the way that I see other native people struggle, with identity and with authenticity."[2]


The Globe and Mail described There There, saying it "should probably be on reading lists for every creative writing program in this country," and commended it as "stunning", with "effective, masterful execution".[6] The New York Times praised Orange's "extraordinary ability" and described the novel as "a tense, prismatic book with inexorable momentum".[9] Publishers Weekly summarized the work as "breathtaking" and a "haunting and gripping story,"[10] while The Millions dubbed it "one of our most anticipated books of the year".[11] The National Book Review called There There "spectacular", "a work of fiction of the highest order," landing "on the shores of a world that should be abashed it was unaware it had been awaiting his arrival."[1]

Canadian writer Margaret Atwood praised the work as "an astonishing literary debut".[12] Egyptian-Canadian novelist and journalist Omar El Akkad wrote:

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.[13]

Speaking of the opening essay of the book, The Washington Post described it as "white-hot", as Orange "rifles through our national storehouse of atrocities and slurs", in a piece they beg not be passed over when compiling the year's list of "The Best American Essays".[3] The San Francisco Chronicle described the prologue as "so searing that it set off a four-day publisher bidding war for reasons that are immediately apparent."[4] Orange described his prologue as "a prayer from hell" in an interview with Buzzfeed, who for their own part, summarized it as "a sort of urban Native manifesto, a mini history, a prologue so good it leaves the reader feeling woozy, or concussed."[14]


There There reached number one on the San Francisco Chronicle’s best-seller list, and number eight on The New York Times Best Seller list.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ So-called, "urban Indians"[5]


  1. ^ a b McGee, Celia. "Review: A Spectacular New Novel that Wants Native Americans to be Seen". The National Book Review. Retrieved 7 June 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d Alter, Alexandra (May 31, 2018). "With 'There There,' Tommy Orange Has Written a New Kind of American Epic". The New York Times. Retrieved 7 June 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d e Charles, Ron (May 29, 2018). "What does it mean to be Native American? A new novel offers a bracing answer". The Washington Post. Retrieved 7 June 2018.
  4. ^ a b c d e Leu, Chelsea (June 6, 2018). "'There There,' by Tommy Orange". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 7 June 2018.
  5. ^ a b c Garner, Dwight (June 4, 2018). "'There There' is an Energetic Revelation of a Corner of American Life". The New York Times. Retrieved 7 June 2018.
  6. ^ a b Elliot, Alicia (June 5, 2018). "Review: Tommy Orange's stunning debut novel There There". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 7 June 2018.
  7. ^ Orange, Tommy (March 26, 2018). "The State". The New Yorker. Retrieved 7 June 2018.
  8. ^ Baker, Jeff (June 3, 2018). "'There There' gives voice to the Native urban experience". The Seattle Times. Retrieved 7 June 2018.
  9. ^ Maslin, Janet (May 17, 2018). "17 Refreshing Books to Read This Summer". The New York Times. Retrieved 7 June 2018.
  10. ^ "There There". Publishers Weekly. April 2, 2018. Retrieved 7 June 2018.
  11. ^ Valderrama, Ariana (June 2, 2018). "A New Native American Epic". The Millions. Retrieved 7 June 2018.
  12. ^ Canfield, David (June 4, 2018). "Meet Tommy Orange, author of the year's most galvanizing debut novel". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 7 June 2018.
  13. ^ "Upcoming Event: Tommy Orange". Harvard Book Store. Retrieved 7 June 2018.
  14. ^ Petersen, Anne Helen (February 22, 2018). "These Writers Are Launching A New Wave Of Native American Literature". BuzzFeed. Retrieved 7 June 2018.
  15. ^ McMurtrie, John (July 11, 2018). "Instant smash hit for Tommy Orange's first novel, about Indians in Oakland". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 9 August 2018.

Further reading[edit]

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