Tommy Orange

There, There by Tommy Orange is a stunning novel, skillfully orchestrated and breathtaking in execution. The voice is powerful, full of rage, poignant, and heartbreaking.

The narrative unfolds from the point of view of twelve characters whose backstories reveal their struggles with poverty, drug-addiction, and alcoholism as they seek to understand and wrestle with their Native American identity. They converge at the Big Oakland Powwow in a riveting climax. With its characteristic pageantry and spectacle of traditional dance and music, the powwow attracts large numbers of people, including a group of young men who are there to commit a crime—to steal its lucrative prize money.

The narrative begins in the past with shattered families plagued with poverty and drug-addiction. It leaps forward in time with a new generation, some of whom are eager to claim their Native American heritage. The point of view shifts from past tense to present tense, from first person to third person, from one character to another. Each character speaks with a distinctive and authentic voice. Depending on who is speaking, the tone varies from resignation, to anger, to rage, to frustration, to a drug-induced or alcohol induced reverie. The sections get progressively shorter to quicken the pace as we hurtle toward the climax.

As the novel unfolds, we learn some of the characters’ lives intertwined in the past and some are related—a son encounters his father for the first time; a woman suspects the older woman she just met may be her birth mother; a grandmother sees her grandson for the first time. Underlying these interwoven stories is the heavy burden of a marginalized people struggling desperately to survive against brutal atrocities and attempts at erasure.

This is an incredibly powerful, gut-wrenching novel. Tommy Orange captures the heartache and struggles of each of his characters. After simultaneously introducing the characters and revealing their backstories, he slowly but surely leads them to converge in a climactic finish at the powwow. Orange sets the stage is if directing a play with each character making a separate entrance from a different corner of the stage. He navigates the drama, inching his characters forward until they meet at center-stage in a violent crescendo. The effect is riveting; the pace relentless; the voice explosive; the language breathtaking.

An amazing debut novel from an extremely gifted writer. Very highly recommended.

AuthorTamara Agha-Jaffar
CategoriesBook Review