Book Reviews and Highlights

There There

Tommy Orange

  • Fiction
  • Literary
  • Political
  • Most of all travel is about leaving and coming home.
  • Dear Reader | Page: i
  • I believe the best kinds of novels have a balance of style and content, make you work while also moving you through the pages in a way that makes you want to keep going.
  • Dear Reader | Page: i
  • We live in a distracted, brutally fast world now, and there are so very many other things to do than read. I hope this book will create the space for you to read.
  • Dear Reader | Page: ii
  • There was an Indian head, the head of an Indian, the drawing of the head of a headdressed, long- haired Indian depicted, drawn by an unknown artist in 1939, broadcast until the late 1970s to American TVs everywhere after all the shows ran out. It’s called the Indian Head test pattern.
  • Prologue | Page: 3
  • In 1621, colonists invited Massasoit, the chief of the Wampanoags, to a feast after a recent land deal. Massasoit came with ninety of his men. That meal is why we still eat a meal together in November.
  • Prologue | Page: 4
  • Two years later there was another, similar meal meant to symbolize eternal friendship. Two hundred Indians dropped dead that night from an unknown poison.
  • Prologue | Page: 4
  • Thanksgivings like these happened everywhere, whenever there were what we have to call “successful massacres.”
  • Prologue | Page: 5
  • Just like the Indian Head test pattern was broadcast to sleeping Americans as we set sail from our living rooms, over the ocean blue- green glowing airwaves, to the shores, the screens of the New World.
  • Prologue | Page: 5
  • Plenty of us are urban now. If not because we live in cities, then because we live on the internet. Inside the high-rise of multiple browser windows.
  • Prologue | Page: 9
  • But what we are is what our ancestors did. How they survived. We are the memories we don’t remember, which live in us, which we feel, which make us sing and dance and pray the way we do, feelings from memories that flare and bloom unexpectedly in our lives like blood through a blanket from a wound made by a bullet fired by a man shooting us in the back for our hair, for our heads, for a bounty, or just to get rid of us.
  • Prologue | Page: 9
  • Being Indian has never been about returning to the land. The land is everywhere or nowhere.
  • Prologue | Page: 11
  • I’m smart, like: I know what people have in mind. What they mean when they say they mean another thing.
  • Part I: Remain | Page: 17
  • One time she used the word devastating after I finished reading a passage from her favorite author—Louise Erdrich. It was something about how life will break you. How that’s the reason we’re here, and to go sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples fall and pile around you, wasting all that sweetness.
  • Part I: Remain | Page: 20
  • Anything to avoid the question: Whatchyoulookingat? There is no good answer for this question. Being asked this question means you already fucked up. Dene
  • Part I: Remain | Page: 28
  • “We don’t have time, Nephew, time has us. It holds us in its mouth like an owl holds a field mouse. We shiver. We struggle for release, and then it pecks out our eyes and intestines for sustenance and we die the death of field mice.”
  • Part I: Remain | Page: 36
  • Dene wants to tell him it’s what happened to Native people, he wants to explain that they’re not the same, that Dene is Native, born and raised in Oakland, from Oakland.
  • Part I: Remain | Page: 38
  • Rob probably didn’t look any further into the quote because he’d gotten what he wanted from it. He probably used the quote at dinner parties and made other people like him feel good about taking over neighborhoods they wouldn’t have had the guts to drive through ten years ago.
  • Part I: Remain | Page: 38
  • But for Native people in this country, all over the Americas, it’s been developed over, buried ancestral land, glass and concrete and wire and steel, unreturnable covered memory. There is no there there.
  • Part I: Remain | Page: 39
  • What he did, what I want to do, is to document Indian stories in Oakland.
  • Part I: Remain | Page: 39
  • I want to bring something new to the vision of the Native experience as it’s seen on the screen. We haven’t seen the Urban Indian story.
  • Part I: Remain | Page: 39
  • You gotta know about the history of your people. How you got to be here, that’s all based on what people done to get you here. Us bears, you Indians, we been through a lot. They tried to kill us.
  • Part I: Remain | Page: 51
  • And so what we could do had everything to do with being able to understand where we came from, what happened to our people, and how to honor them by living right, by telling our stories.
  • Part I: Remain | Page: 57
  • The trouble with believing is you have to believe that believing will work, you have to believe in belief.
  • Part I: Remain | Page: 62
  • I was really into Second Life for a while. I think I logged two whole years there. And as I was growing, getting fatter in real life, the Edwin Black I had in there, on there, I made him thinner, and as I did less, he did more.
  • Part I: Remain | Page: 62
  • Four years of sitting, staring into my computer at the internet. I guess if you don’t count sleep, it’s three, if you don’t count the dreaming, but I dream of the internet, of keyword search phrases that make complete sense in the dream, are the key to the dream’s meaning, but which make no sense in the morning, like all the dreams I’ve ever had.
  • Part I: Remain | Page: 63
  • I’ve always hated when she says “Native American Indian,” this weird politically correct catchall you only hear from white people who’ve never known a real Native person.
  • Part I: Remain | Page: 69
  • While I was talking something in me reached back to remember all that I’d once hoped I’d be, and placed it next to the feeling of being who I am now.
  • Part I: Remain | Page: 75
  • I’m not used to pushing my body to do anything. Maybe it’s too late to come back from what I’ve done to myself. No. Being finished looks like sitting back down at the computer. I’m not finished. I am a Cheyenne Indian. A warrior. No. That’s super corny. Fuck.
  • Part I: Remain | Page: 77
  • BILL MOVES THROUGH the bleachers with the slow thoroughness of one who’s had a job too long.
  • Part II: Reclaim | Page: 81
  • He tells himself he means more. He tells himself he can tell himself and believe it. But it’s not true. There’s no room here for old people like Bill anymore. Anywhere.
  • Part II: Reclaim | Page: 81
  • Bill can’t stand the way she babies him. Can’t stand the thirty-odd-year-old baby he is. Can’t stand what the youth are allowed to become these days. Coddled babies, all of them, with no trace of skin, no toughness left.
  • Part II: Reclaim | Page: 82
  • Something about the ever-present phone glow on their faces, or the too-fast way they tap their phones, their gender-fluid fashion choices, their hyper-PC gentle way of being while lacking all social graces and old-world manners and politeness.
  • Part II: Reclaim | Page: 82
  • Karen tells him to stay positive. But you have to achieve positivity in order to maintain it.
  • Part II: Reclaim | Page: 82
  • This world is a mean curveball thrown by an overly excited, steroid-fueled kid pitcher, who no more cares about the integrity of the game than he does about the Costa Ricans who painstakingly stitch the balls together by hand.
  • Part II: Reclaim | Page: 82
  • The games were all he had then. He had his teams, and they were winning, three years in row, right when he needed it, after what felt to Bill like a lifetime of losing.
  • Part II: Reclaim | Page: 84
  • He read and kept his head down. Let the years dissolve the way they could when you were somewhere else inside them, in a book, on the block, in a dream.
  • Part II: Reclaim | Page: 85
  • You can’t sell life is okay when it’s not.
  • Part II: Reclaim | Page: 98
  • These were career people, more driven by concern about keeping their jobs, about the funders and grant requirements, than by the need to help Indian families.
  • Part II: Reclaim | Page: 103
  • They’re making the decision that it’s better to be dead and gone than to be alive in what we have here, this life, the one we made for them, the one they’ve inherited. And we’re either involved and have a hand in each one of their deaths, just like I did with my brother, or we’re absent, which is still involvement, just like silence is not just silence but is not speaking up.
  • Part II: Reclaim | Page: 104
  • “We all been through a lot we don’t understand in a world made to either break us or make us so hard we can’t break even when it’s what we need most to do.”
  • Part II: Reclaim | Page: 112
  • When we see that the story is the way we live our lives, only then can we start to change, a day at a time. We try to help people like us, try to make the world around us a little better.
  • Part II: Reclaim | Page: 112
  • Listen, baby, it makes me happy you want to know, but learning about your heritage is a privilege. A privilege we don’t have.
  • Part II: Reclaim | Page: 119
  • I’m here to collect stories in order to have them available online for people from our community and communities like ours to hear and see. When you hear stories from people like you, you feel less alone. When you feel less alone, and like you have a community of people behind you, alongside you, I believe you can live a better life.
  • Part II: Reclaim | Page: 122
  • And she was always sure to remind them that it’s not traditional, and that it comes from lacking resources and wanting comfort food.
  • Part II: Reclaim | Page: 132
  • We made powwows because we needed a place to be together. Something intertribal, something old, something to make us money, something we could work toward, for our jewelry, our songs, our dances, our drum.
  • Part II: Reclaim | Page: 135
  • We are Indians and Native Americans, American Indians and Native American Indians, North American Indians, Natives, NDNs and Ind’ins, Status Indians and Non-Status Indians, First Nations Indians and Indians so Indian we either think about the fact of it every single day or we never think about it at all.
  • Part II: Reclaim | Page: 136
  • We are full-blood, half-breed, quadroon, eighths, sixteenths, thirty-seconds. Undoable math. Insignificant remainders.
  • Part II: Reclaim | Page: 136
  • Blood is messy when it comes out. Inside it runs clean and looks blue in tubes that line our bodies, that split and branch like earth’s river systems.
  • Part II: Reclaim | Page: 136
  • Native blood quantum was introduced in 1705 at the Virginia Colony. If you were at least half Native, you didn’t have the same rights as white people.
  • Part II: Reclaim | Page: 137
  • The wound that was made when white people came and took all that they took has never healed.
  • Part II: Reclaim | Page: 137
  • And don’t make the mistake of calling us resilient. To not have been destroyed, to not have given up, to have survived, is no badge of honor.
  • Part II: Reclaim | Page: 137
  • Only those who have lost as much as we have see the particularly nasty slice of smile on someone who thinks they’re winning when they say “Get over it.”
  • Part II: Reclaim | Page: 137
  • If you were fortunate enough to be born into a family whose ancestors directly benefited from genocide and/or slavery, maybe you think the more you don’t know, the more innocent you can stay, which is a good incentive to not find out, to not look too deep, to walk carefully around the sleeping tiger. Look no further than your last name.
  • Part II: Reclaim | Page: 138
  • We didn’t have last names before they came. When they decided they needed to keep track of us, last names were given to us, just like the name Indian itself was given to us.
  • Part II: Reclaim | Page: 139
  • The tragedy of it all will be unspeakable, the fact we’ve been fighting for decades to be recognized as a present-tense people, modern and relevant, alive, only to die in the grass wearing feathers.
  • Part II: Reclaim | Page: 141
  • Opal likes numbers. Numbers are consistent. You can count on them.
  • Part III: Return | Page: 161
  • Bad luck or just bad shit happening to you in life can make you secretly superstitious, can make you want to take some control or take back some sense of control.
  • Part III: Return | Page: 161
  • The boys are afraid of Opal, like she was always afraid of her mom. Something about how brief and direct she is. Maybe hypercritical too, like her mom was hypercritical. It’s to prepare them for a world made for Native people not to live but to die in, shrink, disappear.
  • Part III: Return | Page: 165
  • She’s no-nonsense with them because she believes life will do its best to get at you. Sneak up from behind and shatter you into tiny unrecognizable pieces. You have to be ready to pick everything up pragmatically, keep your head down and make it work.
  • Part III: Return | Page: 165
  • But we spent almost all our free time together—when we weren’t in school—and it turns out that who you spend time with ends up mattering more than what you do with that time.
  • Part III: Return | Page: 175
  • The system scared you so you thought you had to follow the rules, but we were learning that that shit was fucking flimsy. You could do what you could get away with. That’s where it was at.
  • Part III: Return | Page: 177
  • You know what’s funny? I’m all, like, street and shit in real life. But online I don’t talk like that, like I am now, so it feels weird to. Online I try to sound smarter than I am. I mean I choose what I type carefully, cuz that’s all people know about me.
  • Part III: Return | Page: 190
  • I learned from YouTube how to code. Shit like JavaScript, Python, SQL, Ruby, C++, HTML, Java, PHP. Sounds like a different language, right? It is. And you get better by putting in the time and taking to heart what all the motherfuckers have to say about your abilities on the forums.
  • Part III: Return | Page: 190
  • Anyway, I mostly see Oakland from online now. That’s where we’re all gonna be mostly eventually. Online. That’s what I think. We’re already kinda moving in that direction if you think about it. We’re already like fucking androids, thinking and seeing with our phones all the time.
  • Part III: Return | Page: 191
  • I brought home outdated racist insults from school like it was the 1950s. All Mexican slurs, of course, since people where I grew up don’t know Natives still exist. That’s how much those Oakland hills separate us from Oakland. Those hills bend time.
  • Part III: Return | Page: 197
  • Trapped by violence. They have kids to think about. They can’t just leave, with the kids, no money, no relatives. I have to talk to these women about options.
  • Part III: Return | Page: 203
  • Before getting to the Nineteenth Street Station you pass a group of white teenagers who size you up. You’re almost afraid of them. Not because you think they’ll do anything. It’s how out of place they are, all the while looking like they own the place.
  • Part III: Return | Page: 215
  • You want to run them down. Scream something at them. Scare them back to wherever they came from. Scare them out of Oakland.
  • Part III: Return | Page: 215
  • When you took baths, you’d stare at your brown arms against your white legs in the water and wonder what they were doing together on the same body, in the same bathtub.
  • Part III: Return | Page: 216
  • People don’t want any more than a little story they can bring back home with them, to tell their friends and family around the dinner table, to talk about how they saw a real Native American boy on a train, that they still exist.
  • Part IV: Powwow | Page: 235
  • “That’s their culture,” Blue says. “What is?”“Taking over.”
  • Part IV: Powwow | Page: 246
  • “You have to dance like birds sing in the morning,” she’d said, and showed him how light she could be on her feet.
  • Part IV: Powwow | Page: 290
  • My living Cheyenne relatives, and my ancestors who made it through unimaginable hardship, who prayed hard for us next ones here now, doing our best to pray and work hard for those to come.
  • Acknowledgments | Page: 293
  • So much of what is written about Native Americans is in historical, or stereotypical, terms. So I very much wanted to write modern Native characters who transcend and transgress what has been written by Natives and non-Natives who fail to represent Native people as living now, as relevant.
  • Q&A with the Author | Page: 300
  • I loved John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces and Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar as opening up what I thought the novel could do.
  • Q&A with the Author | Page: 300
  • I read a lot of work in translation. There were writers who made me want to write who I don’t write like at all. Franz Kafka, Jorge Luis Borges, Clarice Lispector, and Robert Walser, to name a few.
  • Q&A with the Author | Page: 300
  • My favorite author in the Native American canon is Louise Erdrich.
  • Q&A with the Author | Page: 300
  • Who are some of your favorite authors? TO: John Kennedy Toole Sylvia Plath Jorge Luis Borges Franz Kafka Clarice Lispector Roberto Bolaño
  • Q&A with the Author | Page: 301
  • Haruki Murakami Colum McCann Jennifer Egan Sandra Cisneros Louise Erdrich Marlon James
  • Q&A with the Author | Page: 301
  • I’m doing my best to accept and love exactly what it means to live right now, as who I am. I don’t want to be in another time.
  • Q&A with the Author | Page: 303