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by Tommy Orange
GENRE: Literary Fiction
The struggles, pain, and heartache of urban Native Americans are explored in this literary debut. Readers are introduced to twelve characters whose stories appear to be separate from one another. Their connections are slowly revealed, culminating at the Big Oakland Powwow with explosive force.
Tommy Orange was born and raised in Oakland, California. He is an enrolled member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma. Tommy currently teaches at the MFA program at the Institute of American Indian Arts. There There is his first novel. - Penguin Books
/* Starred Review */ The at-first disconnected characters from whose perspectives Orange voices his symphonic debut are united by the upcoming Big Oakland Powwow. Some have been working on the event for months; some will sneak in with only good intentions, while others are plotting to steal the sizable cash prizes. Creative interludes from an omniscient narrator describe, for example, the names of First Nations people or what it means to be an Urban Indian: “We ride buses, trains, and cars across, over, and under concrete plains. Being Indian has never been about returning to the land. The land is everywhere or nowhere.” Opal recalls occupying Alcatraz as a child with her family; today she raises her sister’s grandchildren as her own after their unspeakable loss. With grant support, Dene endeavors to complete the oral-history project his deceased uncle couldn’t, recording the stories of Indians living in Oakland. In his thirties, with his white mother’s blessing, Edwin reaches out to the Native father he never met. While anticipation of the powwow provides a baseline of suspense, the path Orange lights through these and his novel’s many other stories thrills on its own. Engrossing at its most granular, in characters’ thoughts and fleeting moments, There There introduces an exciting voice. -- Bostrom, Annie (Reviewed 5/1/2018) (Booklist, vol 114, number 17, p64).
/* Starred Review */ Orange’s commanding debut chronicles contemporary Native Americans in Oakland, as their lives collide in the days leading up to the city’s inaugural Big Oakland Powwow. Bouncing between voices and points of view, Orange introduces 12 characters, their plotlines hinging on things like 3-D–printed handguns and VR-controlled drones. Tony Loneman and Octavio Gomez see the powwow as an opportunity to pay off drug debts via a brazen robbery. Others, like Edwin Black and Orvil Red Feather, view the gathering as a way to connect with ancestry and, in Edwin’s case, to meet his father for the first time. Blue, who was given up for adoption, travels to Oklahoma in an attempt to learn about her family, only to return to Oakland as the powwow’s coordinator. Orvil’s grandmother, Jacquie, who abandoned her family years earlier, reappears in the city with powwow emcee Harvey, whom she briefly dated when the duo lived on Alcatraz Island as adolescents. Time and again, the city is a magnet for these individuals. The propulsion of both the overall narrative and its players are breathtaking as Orange unpacks how decisions of the past mold the present, resulting in a haunting and gripping story. Agent: Nicole Aragi, Aragi Inc. (June) --Staff (Reviewed 04/02/2018) (Publishers Weekly, vol 265, issue 14, p).
/* Starred Review */ Orange's visceral first novel, set in past and present-day Oakland, weaves more than ten plot lines involving the lives of Native Americans. All intersect in a crescendo of violence at the Oakland Powwow. Tony Loneman starts off the narrative with an honest discussion of his fetal alcohol syndrome, which he calls "the Drome." He also features in the conclusion piloting a drone. Video artist Dene Oxendene records stories while Orvil Red Feather is a dancer. Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield and her sister Jacquie Red Feather are most central to the novel. Jacquie and Opal were part of the historic occupation of Alcatraz—where Jacquie became pregnant—eventually giving up her daughter for a blind adoption. A chronicle of domestic violence, alcoholism, addiction, and pain, the book reveals the perseverance and spirit of the characters; from Jacquie as a substance abuse counselor ten days sober to the plight of Blue, the daughter she gave up, escaping from an abusive relationship. VERDICT This book provides a broad sweep of lives of Native American people in Oakland and beyond. Echoes of Piri Thomas's Down These Mean Streets meets the unflinching candor of Sherman Alexie's oeuvre; highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, 12/11/17.] --Henry Bankhead (Reviewed 04/01/2018) (Library Journal, vol 143, issue 6, p68).
/* Starred Review */ Orange's debut novel offers a kaleidoscopic look at Native American life in Oakland, California, through the experiences and perspectives of 12 characters. An aspiring documentary filmmaker, a young man who has taught himself traditional dance by watching YouTube, another lost in the bulk of his enormous body—these are just a few of the point-of-view characters in this astonishingly wide-ranging book , which culminates with an event called the Big Oakland Powwow. Orange, who grew up in the East Bay, knows the territory, but this is no work of social anthropology; rather, it is a deep dive into the fractured diaspora of a community that remains, in many ways, invisible to many outside of it. "We made powwows because we needed a place to be together," he writes. "Something intertribal, something old, something to make us money, something we could work toward, for our jewelry, our songs, our dances, our drum." The plot of the book is almost impossible to encapsulate, but that's part of its power. At the same time, the narrative moves forward with propulsive force. The stakes are high: For Jacquie Red Feather, on her way to meet her three grandsons for the first time,, there is nothing as conditional as sobriety: "She was sober again," Orange tells us, "and ten days is the same as a year when you want to drink all the time." For Daniel Gonzales, creating plastic guns on a 3-D printer, the only lifeline is his dead brother, Manny, to whom he writes at a ghostly Gmail account. In its portrayal of so-called "Urban Indians," the novel recalls David Treuer's The Hiawatha, but the range, the vision, is all its own. What Orange is saying is that, like all people, Native Americans don't share a single identity; theirs is a multifaceted landscape, made more so by the sins, the weight, of history. That some of these sins belong to the characters alone should go without saying, a point Orange makes explicit in the novel's stunning, brutal denouement. "People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them," James Baldwin wrote in a line Orange borrows as an epigraph to one of the book's sections; this is the inescapable fate of every individual here. In this vivid and moving book, Orange articulates the challenges and complexities not only of Native Americans, but also of America itself. (Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 2018).
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