There There (novel)

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There There
There There (Tommy Orange).png
First edition cover
AuthorTommy Orange
Audio read byDarrell Dennis[1]
Shaun Taylor-Corbett[1]
Alma Cuervo[1]
Kyla Garcia[1]
Cover artistTyler Comrie (design)[2]
CountryUnited States
Genrehistory, fiction[3]
Set inOakland, California
PublisherAlfred A. Knopf
Publication date
June 5, 2018
Media typePrint (hardcover)
LC ClassPS3615.R32 T48 2018

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 and its attempted robbery.

The book explores the themes of Native peoples living in urban spaces (Urban Indians), and issues of ambivalence and complexity related to Natives' struggles with identity and authenticity. There There was favorably received, and was a finalist for the 2019 Pulitzer Prize.[4] The book was also awarded a Gold Medal for First Fiction by the California Book Awards.


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."[5]

As it continues into fiction, the novel alternates between first and third person perspectives, following 12 Native American characters in the area of Oakland, California.[6][7][a] It examines one character, named Blue, with "heartbreaking empathy" as she describes how she initially remained with her abusive partner[9] before finally leaving. 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.[6] 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.[10]

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,"[7] and in the mirror, wearing tribal regalia pulled from a closet, sees only "a fake, a copy, a boy playing dress-up".[11] Calvin Johnson confronts his guilt at claiming to not be Native at all, admitting "Mostly I just feel like I'm from Oakland."[7] 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.[7] 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."[6]

All storylines and characters eventually coalesce around a pow wow taking place at the Oakland–Alameda County Coliseum, where some characters have smuggled in 3D printed handguns in an attempt to rob the event to repay drug debts.[6][8]


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. Plenty of us came by choice, to start over, to make money, or for a new experience. Some of us came to cities to escape the reservation. We stayed . . .

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".[5][8] 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."[5]

Alcatraz Island and its prison also serves as a theme: a desolate institution that had no running fresh water and no electricity; these conditions were used as an example to the conditions that many urban Native American reservations were living in.

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."[5]


Orange in 2018

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".[9] The New York Times praised Orange's "extraordinary ability" and described the novel as "a tense, prismatic book with inexorable momentum".[12] According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Orange brings "authority and intelligence" to the stories of his characters: In the novel, "[d]islocation and grief are constant, yet again and again we encounter resistance and resilience."[13] Publishers Weekly summarized the work as "breathtaking" and a "haunting and gripping story,"[14] while The Millions dubbed it "one of our most anticipated books of the year".[15] 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."[3]

Canadian writer Margaret Atwood praised the work as "an astonishing literary debut".[16] 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.[17]

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".[6] 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."[7] 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."[18]

There There was shortlisted for the 2019 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction.[19] It won the 2018 National Book Critics Circle Award's "John Leonard Prize" for first book by a new voice[20] and the 2019 Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award.[21]


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.[22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ So-called, "urban Indians"[8]


  1. ^ a b c d "There There by Tommy Orange". Penguin Random House Audio. Retrieved November 13, 2019.
  2. ^ Temple, Emily (December 7, 2018). "Who Wore It Best? US Book Covers vs. UK Book Covers for 2018". Literary Hub. Retrieved November 13, 2019.
  3. ^ a b McGee, Celia. "Review: A Spectacular New Novel that Wants Native Americans to be Seen". The National Book Review. Retrieved June 7, 2018.
  4. ^ "Winners & Finalists for the 2019 Pulitzer Prize". Retrieved April 15, 2019.
  5. ^ 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 June 7, 2018.
  6. ^ 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 June 7, 2018.
  7. ^ a b c d e Leu, Chelsea (June 6, 2018). "'There There,' by Tommy Orange". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved June 7, 2018.
  8. ^ 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 June 7, 2018.
  9. ^ a b Elliot, Alicia (June 5, 2018). "Review: Tommy Orange's stunning debut novel There There". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved June 7, 2018.
  10. ^ Orange, Tommy (March 26, 2018). "The State". The New Yorker. Retrieved June 7, 2018.
  11. ^ Baker, Jeff (June 3, 2018). "'There There' gives voice to the Native urban experience". The Seattle Times. Retrieved June 7, 2018.
  12. ^ Maslin, Janet (May 17, 2018). "17 Refreshing Books to Read This Summer". The New York Times. Retrieved June 7, 2018.
  13. ^ Bradley, James (September 6, 2019). "There There review: Tommy Orange's brilliant debut about urban Native Americans". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved September 26, 2019.
  14. ^ "There There". Publishers Weekly. April 2, 2018. Retrieved June 7, 2018.
  15. ^ Valderrama, Ariana (June 2, 2018). "A New Native American Epic". The Millions. Retrieved June 7, 2018.
  16. ^ Canfield, David (June 4, 2018). "Meet Tommy Orange, author of the year's most galvanizing debut novel". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved June 7, 2018.
  17. ^ "Upcoming Event: Tommy Orange". Harvard Book Store. Retrieved June 7, 2018.
  18. ^ Petersen, Anne Helen (February 22, 2018). "These Writers Are Launching A New Wave Of Native American Literature". BuzzFeed. Retrieved June 7, 2018.
  19. ^ "ALA Unveils 2019 Carnegie Medals Shortlist". American Libraries. October 24, 2018. Retrieved November 20, 2018.
  20. ^ Hillel Italie (March 14, 2018). "Zadie Smith, Anna Burns among winners of critics prizes". The Washington Post. The Associated Press. Retrieved March 15, 2019.
  21. ^ "Breakout Novelist Tommy Orange Wins $25,000 PEN/Hemingway Award for There There". PEN America. March 19, 2019. Retrieved March 20, 2019.
  22. ^ McMurtrie, John (July 11, 2018). "Instant smash hit for Tommy Orange's first novel, about Indians in Oakland". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved August 9, 2018.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]