There There by Tommy Orange: A Review

There There by Tommy Orange:  A Review

Like an unfinished puzzle, There There made me want to start it over again immediately after finishing. 

Protagonists abound; one voice per chapter, characters and families that seem at first unrelated, united only by living in Oakland and by their Native American roots.  Connections are revealed like excavations only partially uncovered, with the ultimate shape hinted at but uncertain.

Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield is Jacquie Red Feather’s sister.  Orvil and Lony and Loother Red Feather call Opal Grandma.  Thomas Frank and Edwin Black and Blue all work at the Indian Center.  Dene Oxendene’s uncle Lucas was like a brother to Opal.  Daniel Gonzales is Octavio Gomez’s cousin, whose influence over brothers Carlos, Charles and Calvin Johnson is forged with blood. Tony Loneman’s name is purposeful. Bill Davis works at the Oakland Coliseum, where the Big Oakland Powwow will encompass them all.

Author Tommy Orange gives us vivid word photographs, then infuses them with subjective truths, like the interviews that Dene captures: authentic, vulnerable, determined.  Storm forces echo throughout There There. These Oakland residents survive in the aftermath of a great disaster:  they labor through gulfs of knowledge, severed connections, missing persons, material poverty, and the variety of medicines used to treat trauma. Their stories are specific and yet familiar to many living in this Town.

I wonder, does the degree to which the reader identifies with the people in There There depend on their own experiences of being “Urban Natives”?  This gifted author walks a shifting line, dances with the book’s main question: what does it mean to be Native?

For more insights into the experiences of “Urban Natives” in the Bay Area, read this article by Joe Whittle.



The Oakland Book Festival: A One-day Literary Extravaganza

The Oakland Book Festival is a free one-day whirlwind of readings, panels, conversations and literary events.  2017’s theme is “Equality & Inequality.” This uniquely Oaklandish celebration happens 11am to 6pm, this Sunday, May 21st at City Hall and surrounding venues (events kick off on Saturday night).  Check out http://www.oaklandbookfestival.org/ for more details.  Here’s a small selection of recent works by some of the over 60 authors appearing at the Festival. Click on the title to read more about it.


Our Declaration : A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality by Danielle Allen 

Strangers In Their Own Land : Anger and Mourning on the American Right  by Arlie Russell Hochschild 

The Border of Paradise : a Novel  by Esmé Weijun Wang 

The Distance Between Us  by Reyna Grande


The Future We Want : Radical Ideas For a New Century  Edited by Sarah Leonard and Bhaskar Sunkara

We Gon' be Alright : Notes on Race and Resegregation  by Jeff Chang

"All the Real Indians Died Off" : and 20 Other Myths About Native Americans  by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and Dina Gilio-Whitaker

You're the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened  by Arisa White 


Against Everything : Essays  by Mark Greif 

Sun Bear  by Matthew Zapruder

Kinder Than Solitude : a Novel by Yiyun Li

The Tsar of Love and Techno : Stories  by Anthony Marra 


Deadfalls and Snares  by Samantha Giles

Morning in Serra Mattu : a Nubian Ode as Told to E.G. Dubovsky Who Recorded It In Verse  by Arif Gamal

Inside Syria : the Backstory of Their Civil War and What the World Can Expect  by Reese Erlich ; foreword by Noam Chomsky   

The Muslims are Coming! : Islamophobia, Extremism, and the Domestic War on Terror  by Arun Kundnani

Are you going to or did you attend the Oakand Book Festival on May 21st?  Did you hear an author or discussion that inspired you? Tell us about it!