There There by Tommy Orange review – moving and powerful

This post is by Alexander Larman from Books | The Guardian

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A challenging debut novel centred on a powwow in urban California explores the breadth of modern Native American life

The title of Tommy Orange’s bold debut novel is a reference to Gertrude Stein’s line about the city of her childhood, Oakland, California: “there is no there there”, she wrote. Oakland happens also to be Orange’s home town and provides the setting for the book, which has attracted many admiring reviews in the US.

The novel centres on the interconnected lives of a group of Native Americans – or Indians, as they call themselves, determined to reclaim a term more often used disparagingly. Orange, himself a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes of Oklahoma, deals not just with several centuries of oppression of the Native American community (which a brief, dryly witty prologue deals with in a devastatingly matter-of-fact way), but how rites and tradition can seem comically anachronistic in ...