Updated: Mar 29
I recently finished There There by Tommy Orange and spent the last few days processing it before I wrote this post. It is one of those books where the character's story lines have powerful metaphors that make you ponder and reflect. There There is written from multiple points of view and has a total of 12 characters. Each of the characters is connected in some way and each of their stories come together at the end. The stories focuses and ends around a powwow that is taking place in Oakland, CA. This book covers so many topics in the Native American community, including alcoholism, domestic violence, sexual abuse, abandonment, family dynamics, and death. Orange's words are so powerful and cause you to reflect on what the Native American community has went through and still continues to go through. I found it so fascinating and thought provoking.
Each character is different and I felt like I connected with some more than others. My only wish was that the book was longer and went deeper into some of the characters. Some that stood out to me were Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield, Edwin Black, and Blue. Opal's story starts in the early 70's, during the occupation of Alcatraz. Opal, her sister, and mother were part of the group of Native Americans that lived on Alcatraz island to take back the native land. Opal lives an interesting life, full of heartbreak and struggles. She ultimately ends up being a surrogate grandmother for her sister's grandchildren. Edwin Black is part Native American on his father's side, but he does not know his father. He has lived his life confused about who he is and where he belongs. He is part of a culture he knows nothing about and has never felt like he fits in. He reaches out to his father to connect to his native culture and begins an internship helping facilitate the powwow. He feels stuck in his life, both physically and metaphorically speaking, and is looking to connect with his culture in order to figure out where he needs to be in his life. Blue escapes from her abusive husband and returns to Oakland to help facilitate the powwow. She starts her life over and always thinks about her birth mother, who gave her up for adoption and is the connection to her Native American roots.
Each story is so powerful in its own way. I read reviews that the multiple points of view were hard to follow, but I felt like this book reads so quickly, that I was not confused on who was who and how each was connected. The concept of how the United States was formed is so intriguing and heartbreaking, when you read it through Orange's words and the Native American perspective. Edwin Black tells a story during one point that stuck with me. He said he had an idea for a movie or book in which a Native American man lives in a large apartment with multiple rooms and his friend asks to move in with him. He allows him to move in and his "friend" ends up letting more and more people live in this apartment, until they take it over every room and tell the man who owns it, that he can move into a crawl space under the stairs. The metaphor for how the Native Americans were treated when explorers came to America is stunning and horrifically powerful.
I really enjoyed this book and give it a solid ★★★★. I highly recommend this book if you like stories that make you think and contemplate cultures that you may not be completely familiar with. The stories made me uncomfortable and sad, but made me think about things bigger than myself, which is one of the things I absolutely love about reading.