Journal of Alta California

Refugees in Their Own Hometown

By the end of the first chapter of “There There,” Tommy Orange’s debut novel, I experienced a familiar feeling. It last struck me when I read Viet Thanh Nguyen’s novel, “The Sympathizer,” a thrill that comes from two simultaneous realizations. First: This book is important — socially, culturally, even politically. Second: Forget importance — this is great writing, period.

“There There” follows the intersecting lives of Native Americans in Oakland. Each chapter shifts to a different point of view as the book jumps from Tony Loneman to Dene Oxendene to Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield, through a dozen characters in all. Orange renders them all as emphatically real, capable of surprising us yet always convincing. They deliver mail, work on an independent film,

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