Author Gertrude Stein, born in what is now the Northside of Pittsburgh, once famously remarked about her adopted hometown of Oakland, California, “There is no there there.” What she meant by this cryptic observation is still being debated, but perhaps it refers to the way we remember those places that formed our earliest experiences and how difficult it can be to watch time erode those memories. First-time novelist Tommy Orange who grew up in Oakland has written a powerful story of the urban Native American experience.
Opening with a graphic essay about the dehumanizing treatment of Native Americans in United States history and in our popular culture, Orange then introduces us to his fictional world. Each chapter is dedicated to one Native American character who struggles to survive in the city of Oakland. All of these characters will meet at the Big Oakland Powwow by the end of the novel. The author breaks through the stereotypes of Native Americans in fiction and introduces us to their world on their terms. Orange’s voice is angry and loving and bleak, and the story is unforgettable.