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There There

There There

If you read one book this summer, let it be Tommy Orange's debut novel, There There. Set in Oakland, California, Orange's novel tells the story of urban Native American life. There are 12 characters we hear from, and their narratives intertwine magnificently in the finale, set at something called the Big Oakland Powwow.

Orange's There There begins with brief snippets of Native American history: of the real Thanksgiving (the slaughter of the Wampanoags), the slaughter of the Pequots by colonists in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, an old Cheyenne tale about a rolling head, and more. In the prologue, Orange writes, "getting us to cities was supposed to be the final, necessary step in our assimilation, absorption, erasure, the completion of a five-hundred-year-old genocidal campaign. But the city made us new, and we made it ours.... We made art and we made babies and we made way for our people to go back and forth between reservation and city. We did not move to cities to die." This becomes the thesis of Orange's There There: how Native Americans survived in cities, and one city in particular: Oakland. 

The title is from a famous line written by Gertrude Stein. Stein once said of Oakland, "anyway what was the use of my having come from Oakland it was not natural to have come from there yes write about it if I like or anything if I like but not there, there is no there there." 

The Stein quote is directly referenced in the text, where two characters named Dene and Rob are talking. What struck me the most about their exchange are these three lines: "The quote is important to Dene. This there there. He hadn't read Gertrude Stein beyond the quote. But for Native people in this country, all over the Americas, it's been developed over, buried ancestral land, glass and concrete and wire and steel, unreturnable covered memory. There is no there there." 

In an interview with Orange, the New York Times Book Review writes, "He envisioned a narrative with a large cast of characters, partly as a way to address how little has been written about the lives of urban Native Americans, who account for the majority of indigenous people living in the United States... Mr. Orange said he felt like he couldn’t move the story forward without first going back." 

Essential reading. Rating:  ★★★★★

Get it here: https://amzn.to/2uAoOE5

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