"Orange’s rousing call for his people to be recognised, full of his generation's anxiety and determination, resonates long after you've finished the book. All of this delivered in bold, assertive prose, whose idiosyncratic rhythms strikingly carry both action and lyricism."
Elodie, Marketing Team
There There is Tommy Orange's debut novel. Inspired by the author’s own experiences as a member of a Native American community in urban Oakland, California, it is a book of great social and political urgency told through a multi-generational story encompassing violence, hope, identity, dislocation and the beauty and despair woven into the history of a nation and its people. We have an extract from this remarkable book, below.
Orvil manages to get the regalia on and steps in front of the full length mirror on Opal’s closet door. Mirrors have always been a problem for him. The word stupid often sounds in his head when he looks at himself in the mirror. He doesn’t know why, but it seems important. And true. The regalia is itchy and faded in color. It’s way too small. He doesn’t look the way he hoped he would. He doesn’t know what he expected to find. Being Indian didn’t fit either. And virtually everything Orvil learned about being Indian he’d learned virtually. From watching hours and hours of powwow footage, documentaries on YouTube, by reading all that there was to read on sites like Wikipedia, PowWows.com, and Indian Country Today. Googling stuff like “What does it mean to be a real Indian,” which led him several clicks through some pretty fucked-up, judgmental forums, and finally to an Urbandictionary.com word he’d never heard before: Pretendian.
Orvil knew he wanted to dance the first time he saw a dancer on TV. He was twelve. It was November, so it was easy to find Indians on TV. Everyone else had gone to bed. He was flipping through channels when he found him. There on the screen, in full regalia, the dancer moved like gravity meant something different for him. It was like break dancing in a way, Orvil thought, but both new—even cool—and ancient-seeming. There was so much he’d missed, hadn’t been given. Hadn’t been told. In that moment, in front of the TV, he knew. He was a part of something. Something you could dance to.
And so what Orvil is, according to himself, standing in front of the mirror with his too-small-for-him stolen regalia, is dressed up like an Indian. In hides and ties, ribbons and feathers, boned breastplate, and hunched shoulders, he stands, weak in the knees, a fake, a copy, a boy playing dress-up. And yet there’s something there, behind that stupid, glazed-over stare, the one he so often gives his brothers, that critical, cruel look, behind that, he can almost see it, which is why he keeps looking, keeps standing in front of the mirror. He’s waiting for something true to appear before him—about him. It’s important that he dress like an Indian, dance like an Indian, even if it is an act, even if he feels like a fraud the whole time, because the only way to be Indian in this world is to look and act like an Indian. To be or not to be Indian depends on it.
Tommy Orange was born and raised in Oakland and is an enrolled member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma. He is a recent graduate from the MFA program at the Institute of American Indian Arts. He is a 2014 MacDowell Fellow, and a 2016 Writing by Writers Fellow. He currently lives in Angels Camp, California.