Saturday, September 14, 2019
There There by Tommy Orange
The reader is introduced to a group of individuals whose lives paint the current Native American experience. There are Jacqui Red Feather and Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield, who are sisters, born to the same mother but with different fathers. They are taken by their mother to the Native American takeover of Alcatraz in the 70's, where they live for a while with others. While there, Jacqui is raped and is pregnant with a daughter she gives up for adoption. This is Blue. Tony is the victim of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and bears the mark of it on his features for the world to see. Orvil and Lony and Loother are Jacqui's grandsons, being raised by Opal and whom she never sees. Harvey is the emcee of various powwows, and now one is coming to Oakland where most of the characters live.
As the powwow gets closer, the characters interact in various ways. Orvil is not sure what it means to be Native American but he wants to know and is there to dance. He has learned the dances from YouTube, not from an older man or tribe. Jacqui comes with Harvey who is also expecting to meet his son Edwin who has found him online. A different group has decided that this would be the perfect venue to rob and has printed out plastic guns and comes prepared to do whatever it takes to get the money they are sure is there.
All these characters collide at the powwow in a mixture of discovery and tragedy. As some discover family ties, others act out their rage and sense of hopelessness. All along we see the effect of poverty, drug and alcohol addiction, lack of opportunity and education. This is a debut novel by an author who is himself an enrolled member of both the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes. It is recommended by those who wish to learn about the Native American modern experience and readers of literary fiction.