Title: There There
Author: Tommy Orange
Genre: Literary Fiction
There’s so much happening in There There, but not once did it feel overwhelming or confusing. I could understand each character, their motivations, and the plot as well, right till the end when it all unravels. Actually., it starts unravelling quite early on. As early on as the third chapter or so.
There There (title referring to a quote by Gertrude Stein, which is out of context, but works here) by Tommy Orange is not only important because of the socio-political issues it raises or the ones that are deep-rooted in the novel. It is also important because it is written so well and needs to be read widely. There are 12 characters whose lives are interwoven. They are all Native Americans, living or have lived in Oakland, California. They are all dealing with identity issues, and want to make more sense of their lives, and do better at living. And all their stories and lives converge and meet at the Big Oakland Powwow.
It is a Canterbury Tales like novel, with each narrative unfolding, and un-layering till we get to the end. At the heart of it though it is about Native Americans and their lives – their stories, the injustices, the motivations, the histories deep buried and sometimes unacknowledged, the need to fit in so strongly because that’s what’s been drummed into your head, and about the marginalized and the invisible lives they lead.
Each chapter is of course focused on one character, and yet it never feels disjointed or separate. It all magnificently comes together in the manner of how families are formed – sometimes by birth, and sometimes just. Dene Oxedene’s track in the book is pretty much what the book is about – he is making a documentary on the lives of Native Americans, as they speak about their experiences of living in Oakland.
Tommy Orange’s writing is direct and cuts to the bone. He shows and tells. He does it all. He is a traditional storyteller, and also breaks form multiple times in the course of the book. Yes, sometimes it can get overwhelming to follow lives of 12 people, but it is a ride you want to be on gladly, and understand, comprehend, and make sense of the world we live in.
“The messy, dangling strands of our lives got pulled into a braid—tied to the back of everything we’ve been doing all along to get us here…we’ve been coming for years, generations, lifetimes, layered in prayer and hand-woven regalia, beaded and sewn together, feathered, braided, blessed, and cursed.”
Do you need to say anything more with this imagery on paper? All I can say is that read this book. Read it with an open mind and heart. I am eagerly looking forward to Tommy Orange’s next.