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Literature / There There

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"Don't ever let anyone tell you what being Indian means. Too many of us died to get just a little bit of us here, right now, right in this kitchen."

There There is a 2018 novel and the debut work by author Tommy Orange.

The book focuses on twelve "urban" Native American characters around Oakland, California, and their lives before they all convene at a big pow wow at the Oakland Coliseum. It examines their individual struggles with heritage and identity in the modern world; through their arcs, Orange showcases the mistreatment and abuse Native Americans have faced throughout the centuries, and how the United States sanitizes it and continues to leave them with nothing.

Has a sequel, Wandering Stars, published in 2024.

This work contains examples of:

  • The Alcoholic: A recurring theme, examined through its effects on others. Thomas is an alcoholic and lost his job, Tony's mother left him with fetal alcohol syndrome, Octavio lost his family in a drunk driving accident, and Jacquie is trying to become sober after her daughter committed suicide.
  • Anachronic Order: Most of the stories take place in the days immediately leading up to the Coliseum pow wow, but one of them is set decades in the past during the 1969-1971 occupation of Alcatraz Island.
  • Cliffhanger: The novel ends in the middle of the pow wow robbery, leaving it ambiguous if the characters will survive their wounds or not.
  • A Degree in Useless: Played for Drama. One character has a graduate degree in native studies, but no job prospects. This is used as a metaphor for the plight of Native Americans in the modern day.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Edwin's story about a Native American man being forced out of his apartment by a white friend is an unsubtle metaphor for the treatment of Native people by white people.
  • Domestic Abuse: Blue suffers from an abusive partner, whom she eventually leaves.
  • Hyperlink Story: At first, none of the characters or stories appear related to each other, but as they converge on the Coliseum pow wow, the connections between them are revealed.
  • Shout-Out: The title is one to Gertrude Stein's autobiography: "There is no there there." There's even a scene where a minor character quotes the line, and another thinks to himself about how it's always taken out of context.
  • The Whitest Black Guy: How Calvin views himself, as he doesn't claim to be Native and just says he's from Oakland.