#bookreview – There There – by Tommy Orange

Intelligent, Powerful, Well-crafted Portrait of Native American Life is Contemporary Times.  Awarded five stars on Goodreads.
thereI completely agree with all the kudos Tommy Orange is getting for THERE THERE. This book is dramatic, simply and beautifully written, amazingly powerful, well-crafted and leaves a lasting impression. Quite impressive for a debut novel.
The book is structured like a series of short stories, each chapter about different individuals, all of them anticipating an upcoming Indian gathering, in Oakland, CA. Some characters are old, some young. Each has its own distinct and believable voice. Some chapters relate stories that are decades old, others unfold as you read them. And many characters eventually wind up connected.
Each story is a rich snapshot of contemporary Native American life, where people must continually confront so many of the daily demons faced by marginalized people. Poverty, prejudice, and political powerlessness are just the beginning. Physical abuse, unplanned pregnancies, obesity, drug abuse, unemployment, parental neglect and abandonment, and alcoholism– lots of alcoholism– are themes that recur throughout the novel.
This is not what I would characterize as an enjoyable read. It’s intensely suspenseful, but the stories are generally not happy ones. The picture Orange paints of Native American life in the US is dark, tragic, and sad. And as a white American, I was left feeling shamed. But I’m glad I read the book because I came away from it feeling I had greater understanding for this often ignored segment of American life. And I don’t think any other book I’ve previously read has so clearly made personal all that this country has done and continues to do to Native American peoples.

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