There There follows twelve Native Americans in the days running up to the Oakland powwow, exploring the identity of a people whose home is just not there any more. Dene plans to film the stories of Natives at the powwow, to tell the tales that are usually forgotten.

I’m not sure if the stories told by the characters are necessarily those recorded by Dene as I had expected, because of what happens at the end. Everyone has their reasons for attending the powwow, for some it’s work, for some it’s to remember their culture, to socialise, for others it’s all about the prize money. And some people are willing to cross the line for that money.

Pretty much everyone’s lives are affected in some way by alcoholism or substance abuse. There’s the teenage boy born with foetal alcohol syndrome, the alcoholic mother who no longer has her children, a drug dealer, the kids adopted or fostered because of their parents’ addictions, families left broken and adrift and those who work in the Indian Centre to help the addicts. It’s a depressing vision of life as an “urban Indian”.

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.

Tommy Orange set out to challenge the stereotype of the Native American, strong, silent and mystical. I’m sure substance abuse is a huge problem in Native communities but it would have been nice to have a broader cross-section of people represented if this was what he was doing. Instead, he chooses to show the damaged lives, leaving it up to the reader to link history with the reason why such addiction is so rampant.

I did like the historical parts and his writing is at its strongest when its directly talking about the place of Natives in modern America. They feel forgotten, erased. It’s certainly a literary novel, one where plot is definitely not a high priority. It’s a short book and there are a lot of characters to get to know. I felt it skipped onto a new person before I had a chance to get properly invested in their story. And what on earth was going on with those spider legs?!

I’m not sure if I missed something but I didn’t understand how everything escalated at the end. It seemed too extreme, but then I don’t live in a country with gun violence. It was traumatic but the book ended before any resolution. Are we not meant to care what happened to these people? Is this a statement about apathy towards Natives? I feel like the book ended where it was just getting going.

The wound that was made when white people came and took all that they took has never healed. An unattended wound gets infected. Becomes a new kind of wound like the history of what actually happened became a new kind history.

Most reviews I’ve seen have been full of praise. I just think I don’t get on with this type of literature any more. I want a story, I want an ending and I want to get to know a few characters well rather than lots in passing.

Listening Notes

The audiobook has four narrators which helps to follow the multiple viewpoints, however not all the voices were distinct. A lot of the male parts were read by the same person which didn’t help me work out who was who a lot of the time.

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Book Source: Purchased