from my bookshelf: there there by tommy orange


tommy orange’s first novel is a multigenerational story involving twelve characters, all linked by their attendance at the big oakland powwow. one character is a recovering alcoholic, another mourning the loss of his uncle, and yet another to support her nephew who has taught himself traditional native american dance from online tutorials. there there reveals the harsh juxtaposition between the native american emphasis on history and tradition versus the modern era of technology, travel, and constantly moving forward instead of looking back. the characters’ suffering in there there is painful to read, but ultimately demonstrates the inherent pride, dignity, and strength of a lost people.


“We are the memories we don’t remember, which live in us, which we feel, which make us sing and dance and pray the way we do, feelings from memories that flare and bloom unexpectedly in our lives like blood through a blanket from a wound made by a bullet fired by a man shooting us in the back for our hair, for our heads, for a bounty, or just to get rid of us.”

“Dene wants to tell him he’d looked up the quote in its original context, in her Everybody’s Autobiography, and found that she was talking about how the place where she’d grown up in Oakland had changed so much, that so much development had happened there, that the there of her childhood, the there there, was gone, there was no there there anymore.”

“She told me the world was made of stories, nothing else, just stories, and stories and stores.”

“And we’ve been coming for years, generations, lifetimes, layered in prayer and handwoven regalia, beaded and sewn together, feathered, braided, blessed, and cursed.”

“Bad luck or just  bad shit happening to you in life can make you secretly superstitious, can make you want to take some control or take back some sense of control.”

“Your heart starts to hurt from lack of breath when you see his drumstick go up and you know they’re coming, the dancers, and it’s time.”