“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.”

there there.jpgThe Brown Baggers met on Thursday, November 21 to discuss Tommy Orange’s debut novel, There, There

Orange, a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes, explores the plight of the “Urban Indian” through a cast of twelve characters living in and around Oakland, California, where Orange himself was born and raised.  The cast is a diverse group of Natives and mixed race people, including a young man born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and a woman who spent part of her childhood living on Alcatraz Island during the 1969-1970 occupation. As the novel progresses, the threads that connect the characters begin to reveal themselves and ultimately lead to tragedy at a large powwow. 

For many of the Brown Baggers, the prologue and interlude were the most affecting parts of the novel. Some described having a visceral reaction, like a punch in the gut, as Orange describes the violence and genocide that generations of Native Americans have faced. The prologue provided context for the novel and Orange continues that thread in the interlude as he tackles privilege and how history has been sanitized by those who have benefited the most from slavery and genocide. 

As for the story itself, some had a difficult time distinguishing characters from one another and felt the ending’s climax to be a bit improbable. Most described the book as “difficult” for more than just the unorthodox structure. Orange doesn’t hold back as his characters face tragedy after tragedy. They struggle with depression, alcoholism, drugs, and domestic violence, but most of all, they struggle with what it means to be Native American. After all, how does one create an identity and sense of authenticity when one’s culture and image has been defined by others for hundreds of  years? This question of identity brought to mind another novel the group recently read about immigrants. Fatima Farheen Mirza’s A Place for Us demonstrates how culture and geography defined a community of Indian-Muslim Americans. However, unlike the characters in A Place for Us, native people do not have a homeland to return to, but rather “buried ancestral land, glass and concrete and wire and steel, unreturnable covered memory. There is no there there.”

There, There challenges what non-native people think they know about the native people experience and establishes Orange as a new and exciting Native American voice in the literary world.


Louise Erdrich

Sherman Alexie

Terese Marie Mailhot – Heart berries: A Memoir 

Susan Devan Harness – Bitterroot: A Salish Memoir of Transracial Adoption


The Brown Baggers will meet on December 19 to select titles for the coming year. Join us at noon and bring a few titles to recommend.

“A thing may happen and be a total lie; another thing may not happen and be truer than the truth.”

things they carriedBooks on Tap read The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien at Champion Brewery on November 7 ahead of Veterans Day. Released in 1990, the interconnected short stories describe the character Tim O’Brien’s year of combat in Vietnam. O’Brien the author blurs fact and fiction, truth and untruth, memory and fact in stories that repeat and build on themselves until the reader feels “what [he] felt. [He]  wants you to know why story-truth is truer sometimes than happening-truth.”

While most of the stories are set in Vietnam and are about O’Brien the character and the men he served with, the one that touched our book club members the most was “On the Rainy River,” in which O’Brien contemplates leaving for Canada after he receives his draft notice.  He works in a lodge near the border with Elroy Berdahl, a quiet, peaceful man who bears witness to O’Brien’s crisis of conscience. Fishing together on the river in sight of Canada, Elroy offers no advice or admonishment, only companionship as O’Brien realizes that despite his objection to the war, he will serve to avoid the shame and embarrassment dodging would bring to his family. This “cowardness” evokes a sense of exile, bringing to mind Odysseus for one book club member. The river in this story and the ones set in Vietnam also link this book to the ancient epics and their journeys. 

We discussed the legacy of the book, now almost 30 years old, about a war that is starting to fall out of living memory. O’Brien the author has a strong sense of duty to get the emotion of the experience right. O’Brien the character says he writes to save his life, that “Stories are for joining the past to the future.” While many veterans did not openly share their experiences, this book gives them the space to acknowledge both what the war was like and the impossibility of conveying that to others. We agreed that this book, which is frequently taught in high schools, will stand the test of time as a piece of art. Other documentary works may give the facts and figures of America’s war in Vietnam, but The Things They Carry will remain the best emotional record. 

More Information:

About the author 

About the book 

Other works 

Other book mentioned:

Life of Pi

Reporting Vietnam 


 Books on Tap Information:

  • Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris (December 5)
  • No January meeting
  • An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (February 6)
  • Same Page Title TBA (March 5)
  • Lab Girl by Hope Jahren (April 2)
  • There, There by Tommy Orange (May 7)
  • Clock Dance by Anne Tyler (June 4)


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Starting a Minority-Owned Business Program

People interested in starting a minority-owned business (or those already operating one) are invited to attend Northside Library’s ‘Starting a Minority-Owned Business’ program for professional guidance.Starting a Minority-Owned Business (November 19, 2019) (1)

On Tuesday, November 19 from 6-8pm, Quinton Harrell, Founder & CEO of Heritage United Builders, and co-owner of A Taste of Home Southern Cuisine food truck, will lead a panel discussion with:

  • Hollie Lee (City of Charlottesville’s Minority Business Program & Economic Development),
  • Stephen Davis (The Community Investment Collaborative), and
  • Yolunda Harrell (New Hill Development Corporation).

Attendees will learn from an expert panel about an array of existing and emerging resources to help build the foundation and relationships that make a successful business.

The program will also serve as a great networking opportunity.

For more information, visit the JMRL website at www.jmrl.org.