Read Dissident Gardens by Jonathan Lethem Online


A dazzling novel from one of our finest writers—an epic yet intimate family saga about three generations of all-American radicalsAt the center of Jonathan Lethem’s superb new novel stand two extraordinary women. Rose Zimmer, the aptly nicknamed Red Queen of Sunnyside, Queens, is an unreconstructed Communist and mercurial tyrant who terrorizes her neighborhood and her familA dazzling novel from one of our finest writers—an epic yet intimate family saga about three generations of all-American radicalsAt the center of Jonathan Lethem’s superb new novel stand two extraordinary women. Rose Zimmer, the aptly nicknamed Red Queen of Sunnyside, Queens, is an unreconstructed Communist and mercurial tyrant who terrorizes her neighborhood and her family with the ferocity of her personality and the absolutism of her beliefs. Her brilliant and willful daughter, Miriam, is equally passionate in her activism, but flees Rose’s suffocating influence and embraces the Age of Aquarius counterculture of Greenwich Village.Both women cast spells that entrance or enchain the men in their lives: Rose’s aristocratic German Jewish husband, Albert; her nephew, the feckless chess hustler Lenny Angrush; Cicero Lookins, the brilliant son of her black cop lover; Miriam’s (slightly fraudulent) Irish folksinging husband, Tommy Gogan; their bewildered son, Sergius. These flawed, idealistic people all struggle to follow their own utopian dreams in an America where radicalism is viewed with bemusement, hostility, or indifference.As the decades pass—from the parlor communism of the ’30s, McCarthyism, the civil rights movement, ragged ’70s communes, the romanticization of the Sandinistas, up to the Occupy movement of the moment—we come to understand through Lethem’s extraordinarily vivid storytelling that the personal may be political, but the political, even more so, is personal.Brilliantly constructed as it weaves across time and among characters, Dissident Gardens is riotous and haunting, satiric and sympathetic—and a joy to read....

Title : Dissident Gardens
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780224093958
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 366 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Dissident Gardens Reviews

  • Greg
    2019-03-28 00:50

    A few weeks ago I received an email from this librarian thing I get every Monday that gives information on books coming out months away. I should read these more often, but I don't normally. This particular email had Tartt and Lethem in the subject line, so I felt like I should see what their new books were about. I have mixed feelings about Jonathan Lethem. I think I've written about that before, maybe in my review for his essays. When he's on, he's very very good, but with his novels he's not always on. Is a new Lethem book going to be any good? No clue. I usually wait to hear from other people what they think and then usually I just don't read it. This is stupid of me, but for example I heard such terrible things for You Just Don't Love Me Yet, that I couldn't bring myself to try it, even though I had loved the previous novel, Fortress of Solitude*The Lethem book caught my eye though in this email newsletter thing. Family drama about radicals set in Sunnyside Gardens, Queens. I'm a sucker for books that take place right around where I live, so I got mentally excited about getting a hold of this sometime in the fall.Then Karen told me I should email our connection at Random House and get a copy of this. I hadn't realized it was on Random House, and didn't even think about trying to get an ARC of it, but a quick email, and a few minutes later I had a response letting me know that a package of books was on my way.Yipee!Sunnyside Gardens, is about ten blocks from my apartment.It's one of those places that exist in New York City that look like they shouldn't. Like City Island, or that one street between Fifth Avenue and University Place, or the Northwestern corner of Astoria. Places that aren't as time out of place disjointed as say The Cloisters, but still so stylistically at odds with the city that they feel like small portals to other geographical areas. Sunnyside Gardens was a planned community from the early part of the 20th century. It was (apparently from what Lethem tells us in the book, which I have no reason to believe he is lying, although he does say that the TV show All in the Family takes place in Woodside, with the bar from spin-off being located either on Woodside Avenue or Northern Blvd (I'm not sure if the chance in location was intentional or if one was a typo in the book), but according to everything I could find on the internets, the show and the bar were supposed to be situated in Astoria, I watched the closing credits over and over again on youtube trying to figure out where they could have been shot, but all I could say was it looks like Queens. And not the Queens that is in Coming to America, which is what I thought Queens looked like before moving to the City, but that is more what the Bronx would have looked like in the 80's, and maybe some portions of Queens, but in my head the whole borough was a war-zone slum a la an Eddie Murphy movie) created as a sort of socialist utopia in urban planning. Here are a few pictures of Sunnyside Gardens:Like most places in the city that had character because they were originally designed to be lived in by poor/working class people, Sunnyside Gardens today is probably one of the more costly areas to live in the Woodside/Sunnyside/Elmhurst area. So, I wanted to read the book because of where it was set. In case you are only interested in reading it because Lethem has narratively traveled a bit North into the borough of Queens, I should warn you that parts of the book do take place there, but most of the book takes place on the much more written about island of Manhattan. The book is a series of non-linear chapters following three generations of 'radicals'. Grandma radical who was part of the CP, until she was forced out of the party for taking a black married police captain as a lover. She was excommunicated in the last moments of the party before Krushchev exposed some of those dastardly things Comrade Stalin had been doing and sinking the hopes of fellow travelers in the West. Mommy radical is a 60's hippie, and Baby radical is someone around my age with some Quaker influence who is now searching for some answers about his family and flirts with the Occupy movement. There are some other characters too that are important, family members of sorts. A bizarre cousin who dreams of bringing a proletariat baseball team to Queens, but instead gets the Mets. The son of the black police captain who grandma radical takes under her wing as she terrorizes Sunnyside through her citizen patrols and campaigns. The not-so talented third rate Bob Dylan but all around nice guy who mommy radical marries, and other people who round out the story. It's the characters that generally make this book interesting to read. Especially the chapters on the peripheral members of the family. I don't want to give away too many details of the book, I think part of the charm of the book is the disjointed way Lethem lays out the story and reveals things in some strange places. I think that one of Jonathan Lethem's real strengths as a novelist is when he's telling the story of strange guys, social misfits, the awkward, the people people with obsessive hobbies and interests. I think it's here that Lethem's charming nerdiness really shines as he's writing about kindred souls. Because, that's what's so great about Lethem to me, the way he is such an unabashed fanboy.Where I think Lethem sort of falls flat in this book is when he tries to write women. He lets us know that the women are interesting. He lets us know that mommy radical as a teenage girl was super-smart (she skipped a year in high school), says very smart and witty things, and is super-hot, but it's rare that I felt like I got to experience how great she was supposed to be. Except for in a few parts of the first part of the book I couldn't help but think of her as the geeky but cool and awesome fantasy girl that nerdish boys dream about. I kept thinking that she was sadly just being treated as a manic pixie dream girl instead of a real character. Sadly, because I felt like he wanted her to take life in the book, but it wasn't until a few moments towards the end of the book that she really did (which might have been something he intended, without giving anything away, but it's quite possible this was all intentional, especially since he has another character get pointed out as this archetype about three quarters of the way through the novel). In the first half of the book, the two central characters, Grandma and Mommy only really shined in an epic fight they have after a failed attempt of a teenage Mommy radical to shed her virginity. I was also going to write about the politics in the book, but I'm really not sure what to think about it. The book is about three generations of radicals, but it's also about the failure of their radical ways. I'm not sure if this is a critique of the politics themselves, the way they quickly stoop to an almost parody of themselves, or if it's supposed to be an indictment towards the mainstream way of life that has inevitably crushed these radical ideas under the heels of passing years. I'm guessing you could see the books protagonists as ridiculous pie-eyed radicals or as tragic believers in a truth that fails to be heard. I don't know, and this review is already getting longer than I meant it to be.While it's not a perfect novel, I think it's quite good, and there are moments that are great. Years from now when I'm writing another Jonathan Lethem review, and I think about this one, I'll probably remember how great the chapters were with Cousin Lenny, and be left with the positive impressions of the other characters that Lethem told us were there, even if I don't think he ever fully succeeded in showing them. *Would this novel have five stars if I had rated while I was on Goodreads, and it wasn't one of my initial rate everything I could remember ever reading in the first few weeks I was on Goodreads splurge? Probably not. I admit to finding the last part kind of suck. But I also forget about the suck in the book unless I'm forced to remember because someone on here mentions it, or because I'm thinking about the quality of his books, such as I am now. I kind of just remember the book through the college scene, and leave that kind of embarrassing grown up part out. I probably would have given it four stars if I had rated it right when I finished it. In my mind it was great though.

  • Jonfaith
    2019-04-01 01:57

    Dissident Gardens has all the heft of a five star endeavor, unfortunately some it stuck to the pan. I read two-thirds of it this weekend, one plagued with incessant rain and a certain personal suffering from seasonal allergies. While reading such I read The Believer article about Dave Chapelle which led me to think about Bert Williams and Lenny Bruce and David Allen's chat show delivery. I thought about this and the legacy of baseball and racially motivated murder.Jonathan Lethem knows his way around the American psyche. He is familiar with the pressure points and the genealogies. The novel depicts Rose, a Jewish activist, her daughter Miriam and a troika of their "family: Lenny, Cicero and Sergius. The novel ruminates, backtracks and waxes beautifully. Some elements wear better than others. There is a great deal to consider and to ponder. Greg's review works better, in my opinion. The neighborhoods and the experiences are more palpable.

  • Daniel
    2019-04-09 23:49

    I have enjoyed every novel Lethem has ever written. I was blown away when I first discovered Gun, with Occasional Music in a harvest bin at a local bookstore, and since that novel, I have made a point of getting every new Lethem novel the moment it was available. His genre-bending, his quirky plots, and his vivid prose have only grown in scope and skill over the years, and it's been a treat to watch him age as a writer.What a disappointment, then, for the first time ever, to have to say that he's lost the plot. Literally.DISSIDENT GARDENS (eesh, what a clunky title) tells the story of idealism (mostly of the Communist variety) as it waxes, wanes, and morphs through a family over the years. It's a character-driven novel, as very little of any note happens at all, most of the narration spent on describing emotions, hopes, beliefs, and the way life can grind away at your ideals with its stubborn real-world setbacks and provincialism. This might have worked had the characters been more interesting, but there's really not much to these people. They believe in certain things but -- although pages and pages are spent describing these beliefs -- they are rarely very clearly drawn or explained.That's probably because -- and I can't believe I'm saying this -- the book is overwritten to the point of exhaustion. I can't believe this is the same guy who wrote Motherless Brooklyn or Chronic City. Heck, even The Fortress of Solitude, his most florid work to date, was a sumptuous treat, a narrative that -- while vast and comprehensive -- was still delectable, dripping with vivid scenes, characters, and events. This books, however, is a long, dry, exegesis that still leaves you with almost nothing to really grasp or imagine.Maybe it would be better if I cared all that much about the book's politics, but being pretty much disillusioned with the world of politics, I can't say I get, empathize, or even care about these people and their hunger for Communism (etc.). Of course, that hunger doesn't seem to have a very visible endpoint. Rose, Miriam, Sergius, Tommy, all of these people desire a certain kind of world, but that kind of world seems vague to the point of being annoying. Maybe that's the point? I don't know. Even if it is, it doesn't make for very good reading.At one point, a character named Rose must sit and watch her husband, Albert, deliver a speech to a group of Communists in a rural New Jersey enclave. His speech is flowery and inflated, and Rose finds herself annoyed, thinking to herself, "Quit setting the table and put a meal out for them to eat." She rues the fact that her husband's speechifying has no real content, that it is basically just drawn out table dressing.I felt the same exact way about this book. The writing is so grand and verbose that it seems to think that it is paving the way for a meal fit for a king, but it's really just a lot of fancy finger twiddling. For the first time in my nearly two-decade love affair with Lethem's work, I found myself dreading returning to one of his novels, pushing my way through each chapter and even finding the rare moment of action and interest -- IRA, Nicaragua, even an obsession with Archie Bunker -- just sad punctuation to the inert rest of the book.

  • Jeff Buddle
    2019-03-30 00:50

    Oh, Jonathan Lethem, your sentences are smart and weedy, thick with intellectual overgrowth. All your characters, so smart they are, so erudite; their observations and recriminations could be doctoral theses. At times, you're overwriting, clotting sentences with too much description. In Dissident Gardens, a character doesn't unwrap a candy bar, the candy bar in question is "bared of its wrapper." Why? Such writing calls attention the writing, it makes me see you at the keyboard thinking, how can I make this new?Jonathan Lethem, your writing is such that I wish I didn't like your books, that I could relegate them to a pile of pretenders and pseudo-intellectuals. But frankly, you're too good. Sure, everybody in your novels are articulate to the point of genius, overflowing with both self and cultural analysis, so brilliant as to be unrealistic, but you keep me reading. And I end up actually liking some of the characters you draft. I don't think this is a great book, Jonathan Lethem, but it is a good one. I enjoyed slashing my way through the thick overgrowth of your intellect. It was a rewarding experience.

  • Violet wells
    2019-04-19 02:41

    Motherless Brooklyn and The Fortress of Solitude were two of my favourite reads in the past year. Dissident Gardens is more ambitious, more serious and more intellectual than those two earlier novels. However it disappointed me. Not a huge disappointment because I did really enjoy reading it but found it a bit hit and miss. It’s not without its brilliant moments and there are a couple of fabulously memorable characters – most notably Rose, the matriarch of the novel. Rose Zimmer is a Jewish communist. She intimidates all and sundry with her fulsome and frustrated rhetoric, her high ideals. Someone for whom winning arguments is almost a matter of life or death. When she begins an affair with a black policeman she is removed from the communist party, not long before the details of Stalin’s purges are made public and the communist party loses credibility. She thus becomes a political outcast without renouncing her political ideals which she now presses on various members of her extended family, most notably her daughter Miriam and her surrogate step-son Cicero. Miriam describes her mother as “a volcano of death”, as “mothering in disappointment, in embittered moderation”. The first brilliant scene is when Miriam has decided it’s time for her to lose her virginity – “the virginity Miriam trailed around with her was an anchor, one she vowed to cast off before dawn”. She’s out with a boy who she is going to let make love to her because “he’s special but not-special enough”. But they can’t find anywhere to have sex so Miriam takes him home in the early hours of the morning. Before much can happen – “he blurted his gloop into her palm” - Rose enters the bedroom and is quickly apoplectic with fury. She wants to call the police. Her melodrama is unrelenting. Eventually she crawls on her hands and knees into the kitchen, turns on the gas and puts her head in the oven, not for one moment relenting in her furious disappointment at her daughter’s behaviour. She’s now hurling out the litany of the disappointments and betrayals she has suffered as a wife, mother and dissident, still with her head in the oven while Miriam stands by. Rose then has a change of heart. She slips out of the oven, wrestles Miriam to the ground and forces her daughter’s head into the oven. It’s a brilliant and hilarious scene in chapter one of the novel and really gets your hopes up.There are other brilliant chapters - when Miriam and her not very talented folk singer husband go to Nicaragua to support the Sandinistas; Rose in a nursing home with dementia and the final chapter when Miriam’s son is arrested by airport security for having sex in the toilets.It’s a novel that traces the traction of political opposition and idealism in America from the 1950s up to the present day. The failings for me were that unfortunately not all the characters are anywhere as near so compelling as Rose and yet these less successful characters are given equal airtime. You know that moment when you realise you’re supposed to have a clear idea of who a character is but you don’t have a clue and have to trawl back through the pages in search of clues? Cousin Lenny was that character for me. Suddenly he has a chapter to himself and I don’t know who he is. One problem with this novel is that you could remove a couple of chapters without it having any bearing whatsoever on the novel. This because there’s no plot to speak of. Letham might have written this book chronologically but he then shuffled all the chapters in an order that could easily have been arranged in a different order. I also found it acrobatically overwritten at times. Often he inverts sentence structure (reminding me of late Elizabeth Bowen). What she said I can’t comment on – that kind of thing. So, much that was brilliant but ultimately I didn’t quite feel the love.

  • Jan Rice
    2019-03-23 01:59

    Is there a gene for American political activism, known in the past, maybe, as communism? Or maybe it's a virus, spread not by heredity but by contagion.Each of us working in the U.S. party felt the sway of a seductive individualism, one not so far from a kind of drug or sickness--or, perhaps, a messianic religious fervor. (Possibly this may only be viewed clearly from a vantage such as I've attained in Europe.) (p. 226)One person's religious delusion is another person's freedom from same! Shades of consciousness, and right up my alley. But those are the sentiments of one character, a party apparatchik, and unrepresentative of those of the others.Oh?Yet Communism--the maintenance, against all depredation, of the first and overwhelming insights that had struck the world in two and made it whole again ... --was the sole accomplishment of her life.... It was also, and not incidentally, the sole prospect for the human species. pp. 18-19Now that went a long way toward curing me of the assumption that a character's truths, expressed in fiction, represent those of the author!Then what are Jonathan Lethem's truths, according to Dissident Gardens? Hell if I know, but, maybe, the unmasking of bullshit?Ideology, though that word was as yet unknown to him: the veil of sustaining fiction that drove the world, what people needed to believe. This, Cicero wished to unmask and unmake, to decry and destroy. p. 65 Wait--that's me, haha!This is a very strange book. A series of individuals linked through a particular family--through New York and the 20th century, too--or by their connections with same, are led around by their ideologies as by the nose and made to discover their truths at all cost. Then those noses are shoved into it, whether they learn anything or not. The people, as odd as can be, assume a life of their own. They are real and so are their discoveries and losses. It's very sad. It's life. One thing I can say is you don't know ahead of time what's going to happen!I set off like gangbusters but fluctuated along the way. Some things weren't so earth-shattering--"drama" isn't, to me, due to occasional overload in my own heritage--and some characters were better travel companions than others, but then there are the zingers. The references--I got a lot but no doubt missed others, but never mind, this was for pleasure. As I went along my rating fluctuated from 3 to 4, back and forth--so 4 stars it is.Now on to Motherless Brooklyn. Third time's the charm!

  • Hadrian
    2019-04-07 02:40

    Although I have appreciated some of Lethem's novels in the past, this one fell a bit short for me. It was a departure from his past 'super-naturalism' or 'magic realism', but still with an interesting premise - a multi-generational look at a family of American dissidents, a sort of Bolshie Buddenbrooks. This book looks at the political, and how it connects to the personal. A person's political beliefs and how they got them are tied to the circumstances and relations of their own lives. Life, in this book, is tinted not just from the prism of class as the old Marxists looked at it, but from our parents and how they raised us, and what sort of lives we aim for or where we run away and who leaves us behind.Dissident Gardens is plotless. It wanders in a series of extended anecdotes, trying to fill in a portrait of life at the margins. The marginal elements of society are all still trying to find within a new order for themselves, but also the past and how to come to terms with it.I found some of the unfocused parts of the book slightly tedious, but this does not mean that the book is bad. Lethem still has a lovely prose style, and a keen eye for historical detail. It is an overcrowded book, but one with abundant sensitivity.

  • Magdelanye
    2019-04-12 02:55

    Dissident Gardens is a vibrant shout of a book,exuberant and dense,bristling with equal measures scholarship and experience.Slipping easily from the intimate to the panoramic, it is a magnificent take on the last century as well as a sobering view of what it means to be human,defined by the integrity of a belief system. JL's strong willed characters do not so much believe in their various causes they embody them.If for the longest while I resented the lack of chronology,floundering a bit in the unexpected heft and dazzlement of words, soon I was marvelling at the perspective gained from the resultant skillful interweaving.

  • Garythe Bookworm
    2019-04-13 22:32

    Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were only walls. Joseph CampbellJonathan Lethem is able to deftly capitalize on the settings he employs in his novels by making the neighborhoods he chooses come vividly to life. Not only do they help to define his characters, they sometimes serve as external metaphors for their internal struggles. Rose, the central character, and matriarch of a nuclear family that is perpetually on the brink of annihilation, lives most of her adult life in a leafy enclave in Queens, New York called Sunnyside Gardens. This was America's first successful experiment with garden-city design, established to provide affordable working-class housing - an urban utopia - and was so successful that it influenced all urban planning that followed; a green oasis 15 minutes from Midtown Manhattan, it even has a Bliss Street as one of its main thoroughfares. Rose is a dissident in all aspects of her life. She is an atheist, a Jew, an adulterer, an abandoned wife, a ferocious mother and a life-long crusader for causes - particularly Communism and Civil Rights - which place her at odds with mainstream America. Lethem chronicles the wreckage which ensues, for her biological daughter, Miriam, a Greenwich Village hippie, and her "adopted" son, Cicero - a brilliant, bitter and self-loathing academic, as Rose follows HER bliss in ways which are sometimes heroic, but more often divisive and self-destructive. That he is able to tell their stories with humor and compassion is testimony to his skills as a writer. He brilliantly concludes this family saga of lost opportunities with an incendiary encounter between Rose's grandson, Sergius, an apolitical pacifist, and a uptight agent from Homeland Security in the same airport in Portland, Maine where Mohamed Etta's journey began on September 10, 2001. When I finished reading Motherless Brooklyn, Lethem's breakout novel, I craved a sequel because I found its central character, Lionel Essrog, a detective with Tourette's Syndrome, and its setting, pre-gentrification Brooklyn, so compelling. Although the characters' names have changed and this one is set in other neighborhoods, in other boroughs, I finally got my wish.

  • BlackOxford
    2019-04-02 23:48

    Life of the Mind in QueensBet you didn't know there was a Jewish socialist commune established by the federal government in the middle of New Jersey in the 1930's. I sure didn't. Or that Sunnyside in Queens was created as a model community. Or that Abraham Lincoln declared that "Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not existed first. Labor is superior to capital, and deserves much higher consideration..." This was his Message to Congress, on December 1861, six years before Das Kapital?These are strong enough hooks to get me into Lethem's latest creation of New York lit. I can't help it: I devour everything he produces. It could be that he provides plausible explanations for how we got to where we are - emotionally as well as politically. Or it could be that his use of specific locations gives them, and therefore one's memories of them, some significance never before recognised. No matter, just as long as he keeps pumping out more outer-borough stuff.

  • Ellie
    2019-03-24 21:54

    The prose in this section just sings. It's a song in the rhythm of Jewish New York.I rarely feel part of a story, the way I did as a child, but this one is doing it to me. As angry at and sad about the characters as if they were real. My ancient past coming back so clearly!

  • Abby
    2019-04-21 23:47

    Quit fucking black cops or get booted from the Communist Party.My new favorite opening line of a novel* evokes for this red-diaper baby memories of the Party bringing its members up on charges for real or imagined infractions, such as letting a ten-year-old join a corrupt capitalist organization like the Girl Scouts. The line also immediately dispels any notion that the family in “Dissident Gardens” would in any significant way resemble my own. Except for a few minor details, ours was an ordinary 1950s, middle-class New York City family. Paul Robeson may have been on the phonograph but Jackie Robinson (a Republican!) was our hero. And the only one fucking a cop was Mrs. Gutnik downstairs who married one.There is no such ordinariness for Rose Zimmer and the three generations in her orbit. Expelled from the Party but stalwart in her political beliefs, Rose tyrannizes her Queens neighborhood and Miriam, her brilliant teen-age daughter, who escapes to Greenwich Village and eventually, with her Irish folksinger husband, finds a real revolution in Nicaragua, leaving her son to the mercies of a Quaker school in Pennsylvania. Rose's creepy cousin Lenny (short for Lenin) dreams of bringing a baseball team called the Sunnyside Proletarians to Queens but loses out to the Mets. Cicero Lookins, son of Rose's cop lover, is taken under her smothering wing, gets a Princeton education and becomes a “triple token” – black, gay and fat – at a New England college, where he conducts tedious seminars incomprehensible to his students. “Dissident Gardens” jumps around in time, virtually plotless, as it builds character via tragicomic set pieces: Miriam, interrupted by her mother in the process of losing her virginity to a traumatized Columbia undergrad; Miriam, stoned, as a contestant on a quiz show where she might have won more than a case of hair spray if only the host had asked the right questions; Lenny, dressed as Abraham Lincoln for Halloween, pursued by agents/thugs of the IRA, to whom he has sold bogus coins; Miriam's bewildered son Sergius looking for his own revolutionary cause in a tiny Occupy encampment. Rose looms over all, a Jewish mother permanently embedded in each psyche. The sections are uneven and the story never quite achieves liftoff but the prose soars, the historical context is impeccable and the accumulation of detail drives home the dependence of the political on the personal. A satisfying read, especially for Lethem fans and those with New York City concrete in their veins.--------------------------------* Dethroned champ: “Earthly Powers” by Anthony Burgess...It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me.

  • Lemar
    2019-03-22 03:58

    Jonathan Lethem’s new novel makes a case for political conviction being a driving force every bit as powerful as religion. Lethem’s characters embody the idea that peoples’ lives proceed more from their beliefs than their circumstances. In Dissident Gardens we meet a family with the resolve to live by their convictions. Lethem is fearless in generating characters that include an aging firebrand Jewish woman, a complex black gay man, a young Irish folk singer, a genius communist chess player, a hippie mama, a lost boy. He brings them equally to life and does so in beautiful and often funny prose. All of them are more than meet the eye (and the one that isn't is charmingly notable for that!) There is an image early in the book (so not much of a spoiler here but worth mentioning) that endures. Norman Rockwell should have painted this quintessentially American scene. Its a fall day in the borough of Queens, we are in the kitchen of a flat in Sunnyside Gardens, spare but tidy; two women, first the figure of the single mother, her maternal nature clearly visible in her concentrated expression fixed on the second figure, her teen age daughter. The daughter appears to be in the midst of a lesson in how to clean the oven, something every coming of age young woman should be learning in 1955. There is, however a tension here. This Saturday Evening Post cover does not reward the careful viewer with a cute black dog getting away with a secret lick of a distracted kid’s ice cream cone. In our scene we can make out some book titles visible through the kitchen door, to those who can pry their eyes away from the increasingly disturbing image of what has to be a mom making sure her daughter is getting her head way in that oven to check for embarrassing grit and grime. There’s Carl Sandburg’s six volume biography of Abraham Lincoln, and what looks like Ten Days That Shook The World by John Reed. This is a house built of ideas. The action in the kitchen is a pivotal, there is a struggle here of the utmost importance and is something played out frequently in varying degrees in homes all across the country from the 1950’s through the 1970’s but continuing and likely to persist.This is a scene worthy of Rockwell though because it is quintessentially American, the heart wrenching desire of a parent to impart fervently held beliefs in the face of capitalism’s bland, comforting bounty. The belief of the mother in many American homes could be religious but the heart of this book rests on the foundation that America was founded by people who felt that our destiny was more dependent on politics that on religion. For this mom, Rose Zimmer of New York, “God himself had gone inside her to die: Rose’s disbelief, her secularism, wasn'ta freedom from superstition but the tragic burden of her intelligence. Godexisted just to the puny extent he could disappoint her by his nonexistence,and while he was puny, her anger at him was immense, almost Godlike.”Nothing is more important than politics to the people who believe in safeguarding the freedoms won through war, activism and struggle. That is what makes this scene so poignant, it is the desperation of love, of a loving parent fighting against seeing the vigor of their hard won convictions dissipated by the vapid onslaught of products, things, stuff sold by companies whose convictions aspire to nothing more that making a profit. People begin to panic in the fear that their sacred quest to impart to their loved ones, their descendants (whether by blood or not), their sense of social justice, the cause of those who gave up so much might be inundated by the ubiquitous onslaught of teenage culture, fueled by hormones, marijuana, cheap products and most importantly, camaraderie outside their control. A teenage pregnancy could derail all their hopes. They see their moral certainty, whether religious or political, threatened in the face of corporate efforts that encourage young people to be more concerned with that, unsightly zit than the future of fellow citizens struggling to make enough money to survive while the rich get richer? The frustration of a person who fought for the social justice promised by communism only to see it repeatedly betrayed, never tried, is the perfect pinnacle of this experience. Lethem is unblinking but not pessimistic. Do these values survive, are they successfully imparted? Its worth reading to get his take. He got me thinking, feeling, questioning and laughing; five stars.

  • Adam
    2019-04-12 01:01

    Lethem’s new book is in theory a sweeping story of a couple generations in a family and through them a history of the American left from the thirties on, maybe in the style of Doctorow’s Book of Daniel. One can imagine what that book would be like, filled with thrilling set pieces, historical cameos, and the word epic included somewhere on the jacket. Lethem delivers a book spikier, more interesting, and that is a little bit off putting and inaccessible. Bitterness, regret, miscommunications and lost connections, and tragedy couched in Lethem’s excellent grasp of history and pop culture and the ways memory and childhood create our worlds. His characters are so miserable and petrified by their pasts that without Lethem’s careful constructions and fiery prose this book would cross the line into a miserable wallow. He ruthlessly mines his late mother’s life for the character of Miriam and since he has already published that material in an essay it brings up the thought whether or not Lethem himself is paralyzed by his own past. This book might mark a transition in Lethem as it feels different and is constructed contrarily to anything else he has produced. He has created a kind of anti-epic eschewing the expansive for claustrophobic portraiture.

  • Carolin
    2019-04-19 04:42

    As a longtime fan of Lethem's, I'm sorry to say that I really did not like this book. We are told over and over that the central character is larger than life, but that didn't come across. In fact, except for scattered set pieces (mostly involving Miriam) none of it came to life for me. It was too dense, too jargony, too concerned with grand themes and too unconcerned with plot or characterization. Also, the ending was completely unsatisfying, even though it was set at the Portland Jetport, a place I am very fond of... I was truly disappointed.

  • Ron Charles
    2019-04-07 21:39

    For all the lives crushed and fortunes exhausted in the decades-long battle against communism, its collapse in Eastern Europe was a blurry affair in the annals of history. True, the fall of the Berlin Wall on Nov. 9, 1989, remains a singularly inspiring moment, but it was more an effect of long-term rot than a Battle of Yorktown. Communism, after all, had been collapsing for years, enfeebled by its own endemic inanities and the West’s dogged opposition.How’s a comrade supposed to get closure? Where does all that Marxist optimism about the workers’ utopia go when the dream fades away? “Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun,” as fellow traveler Langston Hughes asked, “or fester like a sore”? One answer to that question came in 2000 from satirist Vladimir Voinovich, who published a witty novel called “Monumental Propaganda” about the absurd persistence of nostalgia for Stalinism in modern-day Russia. And now comes an emotionally complex, stylistically sophisticated response from one of America’s most brilliant writers, Jonathan Lethem.“Dissident Gardens,” Lethem’s ninth novel, introduces us to Rose Zimmer, a captivating addition to the literary pantheon of ferocious American mothers. An unreconstructed communist in Queens, Rose was “the Party-made New Woman, unforgiving in her nature and intoxicating in her demands, her abrupt swerves and violent exclusions.” Rose, who is loosely based on Lethem’s grandmother, survives “the intellectual somersaults of the thirties, the onset of European Fascism” and Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin. But nothing shakes her zeal, not even getting expelled from the party for her affair with an African American policeman — “she who’d marched for blacks practically before they marched for themselves”! From her apartment in Sunnyside Gardens, “the official Socialist Utopian Village of the outer boroughs,” Rose issues her “epic inquisitions” and her “stunning harangues” to anyone who will listen.Increasingly, that’s no one. In a voice of perfectly calibrated tragicomedy, Lethem writes that “in Rosa’s lava of disappointment the ideals of American Communism had gone to die their slow death eternally.”As a story about a family of bitterly disappointed communists in a country that treats them as invisible anachronisms, “Dissident Gardens” is a supremely peculiar tale. But as a story about a quarrelsome family entangled with impossible ideals, it’s touchingly universal.The book doesn’t so much give us a traditional plot as the pieces to assemble the decades-long arc of Rose’s family, from noisy Red protest to silent Quaker witness. (An excerpt from the novel appeared in the New Yorker in May.) Jumping forward and backward in time, the chapters move through a small group of relatives — including a folk singer, a coin collector, an East German spy. Infused with slapstick and melancholy, it’s a complicated structure that cuts away a lot of connective tissue and leaves questions that sometimes don’t get answered until much later, if at all.Aside from the indefatigable Rose, the book’s most compelling character is her only child. Miriam is an articulate young woman whom Lethem describes in a characteristic avalanche of parallel phrases as “mothered in disappointment, in embittered moderation, in the stifling of unreasonable expectations, in ­second-generation cynicism towards collapsed gleaming visions of the future.” Those early years of meeting and picketing and advocating with her mother now mean that Miriam can achieve “routine communion with anyone: teenagers, blacks, suspicious cops, the cowboy-hatted gas station attendant.”If only she didn’t find her mother so unbearably annoying. Illuminated by Lethem’s continually circling analysis, theirs is a relationship of violent contradictions, “the ceaseless arrangement of mother and daughter coiled in fury at each other yet still bulwarked together inside this apartment against the prospect of anything and anyone else outside.” As in all the book’s bickering relationships, this one involves intricately woven strands of exasperation and love. It’s a paradox neatly captured when Lethem writes: “Miriam hated her mother. . . . And then again, again and at last, Miriam shared with her mother a depth of affection.”The novel’s oddest character is a giant, gay, black professor in Maine named Cicero Lookins, who sticks out and feels just as defiantly alienated as you might expect of a giant, gay, black professor in Maine named Cicero Lookins. He’s an angry man, an “ambulatory grievance.” As a boy, he was schooled by Rose in “the power of resentment” and social activism, and now as “Baginstock College’s miraculous triple token,” he relishes his ability to intimidate his rich white students by accusing them at random of being racists and by berating them for their privileged status before he ducks out early from his light teaching load for a swim in the ocean. It’s a daring bit of social satire, transgressive on several fronts, particularly for a straight, white author. But this isn’t the first time Lethem has shown himself willing to cross the color barrier that keeps so many other liberal writers cloistered in their strictly segregated neighborhoods.While the chapters in “Dissident Gardens” aren’t as radically varied as the stories in Jennifer Egan’s “A Visit From the Goon Squad,” they do present a rich spectrum of voices and structures — and successes. A chapter of letters between Miriam and her obtuse father back in East Germany reaches a quietly devastating conclusion. Among the book’s funnier chapters is one that takes place while Miriam is a contestant on a TV game show, her thoughts punctuated by the host’s rapid-fire questions. Another unfolds during one of Professor Lookins’s disastrously awkward seminars called “Disgust and Proximity.” In these chapters and others, Lethem is almost magically adept at pushing the current action into the background and letting a character’s unmoored thoughts travel freely through the past.And yet that gravitational pull toward analysis and reminiscence sometimes drags on “Dissident Gardens.” Lethem can write compelling scenes of action and dialogue — a chapter about Miriam’s efforts to lose her virginity is hilarious; another set in Nicaragua is chilling — but a few sections get snarled up in ruminative clarifications of increasingly abstract points. At such moments, the dramatic impulse evaporates, and his prose, often so vigorous, can sound clotted and overwritten. A similar problem keeps Rose from coming fully to life. As the animating power of this novel, she remains strangely quarantined in these chapters. We don’t see much of her fabled social or political activism; like the communist ideal, she’s much described but never entirely realized.But where else can you read really funny Marxist baseball jokes? Or see how commie parents would dress their children for Halloween? That dialectical tension between mirth and intellectuality has always been Lethem’s most alluring quality, and it accounts for the unpredictability of “Dissident Gardens.” His finesse is on full display in the final chapter, a seemingly slight encounter at the airport that shifts in a blink to a reflection on our harrowing isolation, the tragic lack of comradeship that defines our modern age.Rose would never admit it, but she’d be proud.

  • Panos Tserolas
    2019-03-28 01:45

    Δυο εισαγωγικές παρατηρήσεις: 1. Ίσως το πιο ωραίο εξώφυλλο που κυκλοφορεί (από την ομάδα tillnoon). 2. Χωρίς να έχω διαβάσει το πρωτότυπο αλλά γνωρίζοντας την γλώσσα του συγγραφέα, η μετάφραση είναι ένα επίτευγμα από μόνη της (από την Ελένη Ηλιοπούλου). Οι κόκκινες βασίλισσες (Τίτλος πρωτότυπου: Dissident Gardens. Δηλαδή κάτι σαν «αντικαθεστωτικοί/αντισυστημικοί κήποι», με το «κήποι» να είναι αναφορά στην γειτονιά της Νέας Υόρκης, Sunnyside Gardens, το χωρικό κέντρο της ιστορίας) είναι μια οικογενειακή saga, με πυρήνα τρεις γενιές (γιαγιά, κόρη, εγγονός) εβραίων ριζοσπαστών. Μέσα από στιγμιότυπα των ζωών τους, η νεότερη ιστορία της Αμερικής αλληλοδιαπλέκεται με ίντριγκες, έρωτες, πάθη και συγκρούσεις. Από μόνο του, το υλικό του Jonathan Lethem είναι αναμφίβολα ενδιαφέρον. Από το «ο κομμουνισμός είναι ο νέος αμερικανισμός» μέχρι τον ΜακΚάρθι και από εκεί στους χίπις μέχρι τις καταλήψεις των Occupy, οι -Αντικαθεστωτικές- Βασίλισσες είναι μια δυνατή συναισθηματικά απόπειρα ηθογραφίας των Αμερικανών κομμουνιστών και ριζοσπαστών. Πιθανότατα ο συγγραφέας να ήθελε να υφάνει ένα folk blues «τραγούδι των ηττημένων», να αγκαλιάσει με τρυφερότητα προσωπικές ιστορίες (και τραγωδίες) που σε μεγάλο βαθμό καθορίζονται από τις πολιτικές πεποιθήσεις των ηρώων τους, σε ένα κόσμο που κυνηγά ή απλώς εχθρεύεται αυτές ακριβώς τις πεποιθήσεις. Το να είσαι μια δεσποτική και κυριαρχική κομμουνίστρια στη Νέα Υόρκη (η μητέρα, Ρόουζ Τσίμερ), ή το να είσαι μια ελευθεριακή hippie που ταξιδεύει στην ζούγκλα να υποστηρίξει το αντάρτικο στην Νικαράγουα (η ερωτεύσιμη κόρη, Μίριαμ Τσίμερ), ή το να είσαι ένας «υπέρβαρος, μαύρος και γκέι» νεαρός ακαδημαϊκός που αναγνωρίζεις ως μητρικό πρότυπο την ερωμένη του πατέρα σου (Σίσερο Λούκινς, πνευματικό παιδί της Ρόουζ), είναι σίγουρα ρόλοι που δεν προορίζονται για happy end- όντως, το μυθιστόρημα του Lethem ξεκινάει αργά και μεθοδικά ως μια ηθογραφία, επιταχύνεται ως μια ωδή στην «ομορφιά του αγώνα» (κυρίως μέσω της Μίριαμ, μιας και η Ρόουζ παραμένει συνεχώς ηττημένη και πικρόχολη) και επιβραδύνει ξανά για να κλείσει ως μια οικογενειακή «κατάρα» που οδηγεί σε προσωπικές τραγωδίες. Αυτό το άδοξο κλείσιμο (πολιτικό σχόλιο;) πιθανώς να έχει μια κυνική ειλικρίνεια (χαρακτηριστική είναι και η υποβάθμιση του κινήματος Occupy έναντι παλαιότερων κινημάτων) αλλά ούτως ή άλλως αυτό το μείγμα κυνισμού/τρυφερότητας διατρέχει το σύνολο του έργου. Όταν το βιβλίο σε «πιάσει» (δηλαδή μετά το πρώτο, εισαγωγικό μέρος), γίνεται γρήγορα εθιστικό. Οι περιπλανήσεις της Μίριαμ ανάμεσα σε πορείες, κυνηγητά, κοινόβια και έρωτες με μαχόμενους τροβαδούρους (πάντα στην σκιά του Μπομπ Ντίλαν) είναι συναρπαστικές, ενώ στο σύνολο του βιβλίου η πρόζα του Lethem είναι ευφυής, διεισδυτική και σε σημεία απολαυστική. Κάποιες κοιλιές είναι λογικό να υπάρχουν, μα είναι ούτως ή άλλως ένα βιβλίο που απαιτεί συγκέντρωση και προσοχή από τον αναγνώστη (αν δεν προσέξεις, μπορεί κάποιος να ξεστομίσει μέσα σε μια πρόταση κάποιο κομβικό σημείο της πλοκής).Δυσκολεύτηκα πολύ με τα αστεράκια (πόσο κακό μέτρο αξιολόγησης μπορεί να είναι τα αστεράκια;) για το βιβλίο. Οι Κόκκινες Βασίλισσες (που ίσως θα έπρεπε καλύτερα να λέγονται: Ανυπότακτες Γειτονιές) είναι ένα μυθιστόρημα που με απορρόφησε, σε σημεία με καθήλωσε και ήταν αναμφίβολα μια ενδιαφέρουσα εμπειρία. Επιπλέον ήταν πολύ διδακτικό και πλούσιο σε ότι αφορά στην παράλληλη, ριζοσπαστική ιστορία της Αμερικής. Οπότε 4 αστεράκια, χωρίς όμως αυτό να σημαίνει ότι το βιβλίο δεν έχει ανισότητες και αδυναμίες: Κατά μια έννοια, είναι μια σειρά από μυθιστορηματικές σκηνές σε αναζήτηση ενός μυθιστορήματος. Ένα σύνολο πολλών ωραίων ιδεών σε αναζήτηση μιας καλής ιδέας. Πολλά συναισθήματα σε αναζήτηση μιας καρδιάς. Ο αναγνώστης, κεφάλαιο το κεφάλαιο, παρακολουθεί στιγμιότυπα και στοχαστικές (σχεδόν υπαρξιακές) περιπλανήσεις ενός μωσαϊκού ηρώων. Κάθε στιγμιότυπο είναι υψηλής λογοτεχνικής αξίας και έχει κάτι να προσθέσει στον μύθο, αλλά δεν παύει να είναι μερικό. Η γενική ιδέα κάπου θολώνεται ανάμεσα στις οικογενειακές ιστορίες και τα προσωπικά δράματα. Το τέλος είναι ικανοποιητικό, χωρίς ωστόσο να είναι εξαιρετικό. Όμως η γλώσσα, η πρωτοτυπία, η αλήθεια των ηρώων (και το εξώφυλλο της tillnoon) κάπως καταφέρνουν και κερδίζουν στο τέλος. Επίσης, ξεκινάει τρομερά: «Ή θα σταματήσεις να πηδάς μαύρους μπάτσους, ή θα πάρεις πόδι από το Κομμουνιστικό Κόμμα». Τι μπορεί να πάει στραβά με τέτοια εισαγωγική ατάκα;

  • sologdin
    2019-04-01 02:39

    Nutshell: surly New York leftists re-enact simulacrum of bourgeois family drama.The presentation annoyed me immediately because it focuses on the koestlerian details of picayune totalitarianism--how one fr’instance “could get exiled from the cause for blowing your nose or blinking at suspicious intervals” (3), a primary cliché of the anti-communist genre. (Later, the offending group will, again, be found “immolating themselves in corrupt Moscow directives” (98).)That type of defect aside, text presents perspective of three generations of socialists, generally sympathetic--but the perspectives are cast backward from the vantage of the world after the end of the cold war: even during the height of mccarthyism, say, in matriarch’s “lava of disappointment the ideals of American Communism had gone to die their slow death eternally; Rose would never die precisely because she needed to live forever, a flesh monument, commemorating Socialism’s failure as an intimate wound” (41). This is a rhetorical oddity, to say the least; it’s one thing to think of the destruction of a local US movement (in those years, the CP was jailed and blacklisted, of course), but quite another to contemplate the dissolution of socialism globally. The charitable reading would be that the character is uncommonly prescient and intellectually honest, which makes her continued adherence the stuff of tragedy.Nice criticism of matriarch, whose “Marxism quit at Marx” (49), coming from her pseudo-adopted son, the child of her lover. Dude ends up as an academic, and his discourse is laden with references to Deleuze & Guattari, Lacan, Gramsci, Foucault--though his internal perspective is not saturated with the stuff, as some leftists' happen to be (I can attest). This last is a defect of the presentation or of the persons presented: the characters seem to be standard bourgeois with left theoretical window-dressing. Again, being charitable, the suggestion is that they are frivolous socialists, not sufficiently committed to have transformed left critique into bakhtinian svoi, one’s own discourse, but rather left critique remains chuzhoi, the discourse of the other, the alien internal. (Or one could just say that author fucked up.) Other moments that annoyed me for conceptual impropriety: one guy refers to “a thorn in the paw of the plutocrats” (83), “the recognition of capitalism’s fatal flaw, its undertow of squalor” (84), and “true communism was by definition a prophecy of the future” (102). I don't regard this kinda talk as serious or leftwing, and it comes across as rightwing faux populism. A number of serious references to “utopia” also calls into question someone’s knowledge of marxism. Same character, though, like Causubon in Middlemarch, his “dream is of a footnote” (252), which is kinda awesome--the footnote is marxist numismatics. Academic draws a nice distinction of marxist epistemology: “Astrology fell into the class of a fake lie, one many of its exponents actively disbelieved,” “not worth the effort of debunking” (65) (cf. Mannheim’s notion of the unmasking analytic; cf. Sloterdijk's enlightened false consciousness). Academic, however, had reserved his critique for “lies that mattered. Ideology, though that word was as yet unknown to him: the veil of sustaining fiction that drove the world, what people needed to believe” (id.). He nonetheless initially possessed “an unwillingness to disillusion” matriarch (68) (again, cf. Mannheim on the significance of disillusionment). Some subplots are very much oriented to New York, and as I know nothing of New York, failed to signify for me. Other subplots involve baseball, music, and whatnot. Again, this reader can’t relate. Matriarch’s and adopted son’s sections end up as most effective for me. Matriarch’s daughter stuff is also effective, especially set pieces such as when she goes on a television game show and her father’s Stasi file.Generally tragic, and ambiguously committed. Definitely, though, not an exercise in “look at the silly lefties.”Recommended for persons who are ambulatory grievances, occupants of a ruined century, and readers in a Ponzi scheme of herpes and divorce.

  • Joel
    2019-03-27 21:34

    This book is a masterpiece of structure, on every scale.Macro: the plot structure, switching between times and protagonists, has a form like that of a wind-sculpted rock formation. It's not like a human artifact, designed for raw utility, but it's certainly not random. It's just built according to a different set of rules than we are used to.Medium: Lethem is effortlessly insightful. The main characters are all detailed, possessed of their own philosophies, and may as well be independent actors. Their actions are unpredictable, but can always be traced back to root causes. A character who would come up with this:"You discovered yourself and what really mattered only after you passed through the lens of the fairy tale, imposed on every human female and male alike, that someone existed out in the forest of the world for you to love and marry."clearly has some complex mental machinery going on.Micro: Lethem's writing, while self-consciously rejecting preciousness (he throws around a lot of farts and shits), is somehow still jewel-like. I'm making a bet with myself that I can turn to a random page and find a phrase beautiful enough to merit re-reading.Let's try. Page 310: "This time, he determined to treat [New York] as an ordinary destination, as opposed to a staging ground for spasmodic episodes pertaining to the irrecoverable past. He'd slay the dragon of his grandmother, discover what dominion she might or might not hold over him, what she did or didn't hold against him."Page 183: "When Rose laughed up her sleeve, the sleeve was the twentieth century. You were living in her sleeve."Not bad.This macro structure does hold some peril.(view spoiler)[ Rose's transitions from firebrand to stereotypical Jewish mother, and then from hermit to senile, are pretty abrupt. And there's so much interest to find in Tommy and Miriam's final hours that we could easily have spent another couple chapters there. (hide spoiler)] But these are small quibbles. It's a remarkable book.

  • Natalie
    2019-03-24 04:47

    I've never read Lethem's other books and my boyfriend (who apparently tried, and failed, to get through "Fortress of Solitude") even expressed surprise that I'd picked this book up at all. (His exact words: "Dude, in Fortress of Solitude, he spends, like, several pages describing a stickball game."). But I wanted to read it after hearing that it had "strong female characters" and specifically strong female characters that were radical leftists. In the sense that a significant chunk of the book is dedicated to the saga of a mother and a daughter, I suppose it does indeed have strong female characters. But I find Lethem's rendering of the women in question - who are both self-centered and intellectually (to say nothing of politically) shallow, and not heavily resembling a lot of women I know in real life - extremely wanting. Rose (the Queens-centered Communist matriarch) and Miriam (her rebellious, Boomer-Yippie daughter) fumble blindly & tragically through life in a search for identity and ideology, latching onto a disappointing & dare-I-say cautionary strand of the former, and never actually finding the latter. (Not incidentally: the words "Communist", "Trotskyite", "Yippie", "hippie", "beatnik" and "pacifist" come up multiple times, but the word "feminism" comes up exactly *twice*, and its in the context of Rose dismissing it. Because of course two radically & politically engaged women in the 20th century are not going to have a deeply engaged relationship with feminism, certainly not as engaged as one with communism. Right. Totally believable.) Really, the book was just one big disappointing clunky glop of a dude writer's failed attempt at capturing female psychology. Rose is a homewrecker, Miriam is just a wreck, and the only other female character of note is a bad attempt at "deconstructing" (but-not-really) the "Manic Pixie Dream Girl" archetype. What's more: The ending, frankly, BLOWS. I spent 300 pages waiting for something, anything to happen to Rose and Miriam - for them to find love, or feminism, or absolution, or anything even vaguely satisfactory to do or think about, and I was rewarded with a seriously, seriously weak ending that served only to remind me how fucking sentimental New Yorkers are about 9/11 (because, somehow, that's relevant to the three main characters, none of whom were even around for that particular event.)The book gets two stars for some hilarious passages detailing the character of Cicero, a "misfit" (both in the context of this book and in larger society) character, the protege of Rose and also her married lover's child. His hate-filled fascination with these two overbearing white liberals in his life is totally believable. (But even he & his predicament isn't entirely believable, as we never get any real glimpse of meaningful relationships or role models he has apart from those two.)I won't even mention Lethem's treatment of female sexuality, which is singularly gross. Boo.

  • GloriaGloom
    2019-04-02 02:02

    Colpisce molto l’ultimo romanzo di Lethem per la strana pasta con cui è tirato su. A un primo sguardo frettoloso e superficiale trattasi di solido romanzo realista di grande ambizione formale che narra le vicende di tre generazioni di comunisti americani. “Comunisti” è ovviamente termine da maneggiare con attenzione e cura quando si tratta di Stati Uniti: la nazione dove, come sosteneva Gramsci (forse, dovrò ricontrollare), per paradosso l’unica forma di socialismo di massa è stato il fordismo, parlar di comunisti è parlare di un’anomalia del tutto originale rispetto alle organizzazioni e ai movimenti europei o latino-americani; anomalia non di poco conto nel giudicare, seguire, capire e far le pulci ai personaggi che si muovono in queste pagine. E per la cronaca non si tratta neppure dei comunisti da fumetto cinematografico alla Reds alla Come eravamo, o gli inquilini degli attici su Central Park incastrati per sempre da Tom Wolfe sotto la gogna Radical-chic. Siamo nel sanguigno e proletario Queens, oltre il ponte, oltre l’isola, nella terra degli ebrei immigrati con il verbo marxista in valigia. Siamo nella terra dell’Utopia, ed è proprio un’utopia architettonica , i Sunnyside Gardens, sogno e segno di un gruppetto di architetti progressisti degli anni’30, a far da collante, calamita, meccanismo esperienziale, riparo e punto di fuga ai dissidenti del titolo. Guardare l’America dal punto di vista dei “dissidenti”, è questa la grande sfida che ingaggia Lethem, e non farlo con le armi tradizionale della narrativa. Qui la storia non passa, non è il grande canovaccio del pure lui Grande Romanzo Americano dove i personaggi combattono ad armi pari o impari con i destini e i capricci del tempo, della storia, dell’eccetera, dalla piccola porzione di mondo, famiglia e di eccetera che il destino ha loro riservato, No, qui siamo nel Grande Romanzo Autistico Americano. Niente Nixon, Vietnam, 11 settembre, guerre mondiali, caccia alle streghe a premere intorno. Ci sono solo loro. I dissidenti. Con le loro intimità, personalità, difficoltà, felicità e dolori. Un’immensa distopia mai rivelata come tale. Il dolore si tocca, la felicità si tocca, la frustrazione, la rabbia, il sesso, l’impotenza. Non è un romanzo politico –Chronic City lo era – ma un grande omaggio, umanissimo, a chi quel dissenso ha incarnato. Non è un romanzo realista, cos'è più lontano dal realismo di una tale utopia narrativa (al confronto l’anello con i superpoteri de La fortezza della solitudine è una bazzecola)? E poi c’è una lingua bellissima, piena, armonica, nella grande tradizione di Bellow e di Roth, che finalmente Lethem è in grado di maneggiare in scioltezza, con la giusta ambizione.

  • Barbara
    2019-04-01 22:00

    This is the first book by Lethem I've read and am pretty much awed by his artistry. He moved across several decades capturing the lives of a family of leftists across 3 generations. The hold of the matriarch Rose over her family is evident to the end of her life. I appreciated the way Lethem constructs the story by foreshadowing and even announcing events to come without details. As a reader I realized that he would give me the details in a later chapter. Instead of seeming gimmicky, it worked to keep me reading. Also, I enjoy books with clearly defined chapters, and appreciated the elegance of his crafting of each. His characterization of the mindset of leftists from 1950's members of the Communist Party to the Occupy movement was particularly brilliant.

  • Mark
    2019-04-07 02:55

    I grabbed Dissident Gardens from the new arrivals shelves of my local library on a complete whim. Once back home, before I started reading, I found myself wondering why I was arriving this late to the Jonathan Lethem party. After all, I knew he was the darling scribe of the more elder and literary-inclined hipster set. While I don’t count myself among 21st century America’s stilyagi (and increasingly find cause to mistrust much of what this loosely defined counter cultural group rallies around), their tastes have pointed me in the direction of music and writing I’ve enjoyed often enough before.As a true son of Brooklyn, who abandoned Bennington college to pursue his writing craft and career while supporting himself as a clerk in secondhand bookstores, Lethem can boast of (or have attributed to him) more street cred than, say, Michael Chabon, Rick Moody or the late David Foster Wallace (writers with whom, at least in my mind and maybe in others, Lethem can be fairly grouped in some sort of literary generational cohort). Unlike these other novelists, Lethem's writerly mind and muscles have never been molly coddled (“had” in the case of Wallace) or made stronger (you decide) by pursuit and capture of the MFA grail.In that unsubstantiated way that comes from never actually reading, but only reading about, an author, I was also aware of Lethem’s reputation for creatively hybridizing so-called low or pop culture genres—such as science fiction and hardboiled detective stories—with what one might consider loftier literary ambitions. I knew he lived and labored under a Bob Dylan obsession that showed itself in both ways subtle and not so much in his work. I had read of his proclivity to lace his prose with allusions from other realms of rock, pop and hip-hop music as well as from super hero comic books.In short, as I stared at the alluring orange and blue three dimensional block lettering on the cover of Dissident Gardens all those quirky qualities reputed to be solidly in Lethem’s wheelhouse—and likely to resonate favorably with me—piled up in my mind prodding me to wonder why this, his ninth published novel, is the first time I set out to read him.After thinking about it for a while, I could come up with no more sophisticated an explanation than my life consists of distractions from other distractions from eventually what, only in retrospect, seems to be a more proper path. That and the less philosophical reality that my days, like those of all other readers, contain only so many available hours was my best answer (I’m compelled to add, for the sake of accuracy, that while reading Dissident Gardens I realized it was actually not quite the first Lethem I’d read when I recalled enjoying Men and Cartoons, a collection of Lethem's short stories, years earlier).After completing Dissident Gardens this month (but not yet returning it to the Longmeadow Richard Salter Storrs Library—current overdue fine of $2.35 increasing daily), I’ve replaced any sustained puzzlement over why I’ve waited so long to read Lethem with the distinct feeling that I could have easily waited longer and maybe should have picked one of his earlier novels to start.Sure, Dissident Gardens was fine as a diversion and, more importantly, as an expansion of my literary palate. So I don’t begrudge the author the time I put into reading his book, but only at one point (more on that later) did his writing move me the way those novels I’ve come to count among my favorites do. Nothing about this sprawling constellation of seven intense character studies—rendered in painstaking but mostly unpersuasive interiority—from three generations of American left wing political and cultural dissidence made me want to retrace my steps any time soon to discover more of the many intertextual and allusive Easter eggs that pepper the novel’s path.And while I do have every intention of eventually getting around to reading some of the more celebrated novels in Lethem’s back catalogue (for example Girl in Landscape—I think his first, Motherless Brooklyn, The Fortress of Solitude), nothing about this book urged me to move those titles any higher up on my “to read” list (which is prioritized only in the most abstract—if not wholly imaginary—sense anyway).Some additional synopsis of this operatic, many-headed monster seems warranted. Since I went far out on the limb of specificity above by saying that “seven intense character studies”—as opposed to any kind of rigorous plot—serve as the fabric of this book, allow me to introduce them to you.Rose Angrush Zimmer is arguably the central character of the zigzag non-chronological storyline. We follow her from recollections of her premarital youth to her senility and death. She is the buxom, boiling, red hot communist who—if I may lazily cheat a bit and fall back on quoting from Hal Parker’s excellent review in The American Reader—we find: “Defiantly standing at the head of Dissident Gardens … the Jewish matriarch-cum-termagant … ‘the Last Communist.’ An indefatigable activist and organizer, Rose also verges on bullying and borderline abusive behavior toward family members and strangers alike. One of many communists in the 1930s to whom the hilarious, thought-contorting label ‘Premature Anti-Fascist’ was applied, she is expelled from the Communist Party in the 1950s for her sexual relationship with an African-American policeman, or for being—in Mr. Lethem’s sly phrase—a ‘too-sensuous egalitarian.’”Rose’s first, only official and ultimately unsatisfactory husband (and biological and ultimately unsatisfactory father to their daughter, Miriam) is Albert Zimmer. In stark contrast to Rose, Albert is a sort of Communist party Babbitt. He epitomizes embracing all the show but none of the go of the revolution. A depiction of his less than potent sexuality echoes his liability as an activist: a penchant for windy speeches over meaningful action.Miriam Zimmer is Rose’s daughter whom we also follow from the first stirrings of sexual longings in youth to an offstage death. She, falling back on Parker’s review again (almost for the last time), “incarnates the New Left in America. A ‘Queens College freshman dropout’ and ‘Bolshevik of the five senses,’ Miriam marries a protest folksinger (Tommy Gogan) and lives in a commune on the Lower East Side. Eventually, she and her husband are murdered in Nicaragua by the Contras and their nefarious American allies. This leaves their young son Sergius an orphan to be raised at a Quaker boarding school in Pennsylvania.” Besides the novelist’s pithy labels Parker quotes above, Lethem also refers to Miriam early on as “the maven of MacDougal Street.” Her and, to a lesser extent, her husband’s arc consists of their evolution from East Village beat generation types to East Coast hippies to seventies activists.Tommy Gogan is … well, why put it off any longer? The character study in the fourth chapter of the novel’s second section, Tommy Gogan’s Second Album is anomalous in two ways: it’s the only time Lethem takes us deep inside Tommy Gogan’s head and, as I mentioned earlier, was writing I found compelling in ways that the rest of the novel never came close to. When Gogan falls victim to the same offstage death as Miriam, it felt practically superfluous to me because he had already suffered the spiritual demise of a man who envisions himself an artist then discovers that his initial explosion of creativity (as goaded from him and coached along by Miriam) only served to demonstrate how fleeting and finite the power of his inner muse was and how horribly alone that can leave a person who hasn’t invested his energy into anything else. This chapter’s hold on me never broke and the final sentence, unlike most of Lethem’s other chapters, seemed to be so much more than where Lethem decided to stop, but where he masterfully reached a grim conclusion. I found it chilling and—to foreshadow my criticism of what I usually found lacking about much of the book—viscerally so.While Cicero Lookins is the biological offspring of Douglas Lookins, Rose’s African-American police officer lover, and his dying of Lupus, also relegated to B-character status wife, Diane, he’s no doubt the spiritual son of Rose Zimmer. As Janet Maslin writes in The New York Times review of the book, “Cicero is swooped up by Rose at an early age and grows into a huge, dreadlocked, tedious professor in Maine, his college’s ‘miraculous triple token, gay, black and overweight.” The behavior Rose models and the adventures she opens up to Cicero through her mentoring shape him into every bit the scathingly brilliant, defensive and caustically self-isolating intellectual that she is. But at least Rose has communism in which to invest her all consuming energy. Cicero only has that less organizing, perhaps less socially validating worldview: an alternating hostile and lonely cynicism.Lenny Angrush is so many different things: sweaty, stump-thumbed, hyperactive, hyper-verbal on par with his older second cousin Rose—he’s a tightly wound spring of mostly unrequited lusts and a character through which Lethem channels some of what I expect is a lifelong fascination with and fanaticism for baseball. Lenny is a coin collector, a masterful chess player and perhaps the argument that Lethem should have found a way to trim his cast of characters by at least one. On second thought—probably not. Lethem clearly wants to maintain a strong comic tone in this novel and cousin Lenny certainly is—albeit often perverse and usually sad—the clown of the cast of characters.Fate launches Sergius Gogan—Miriam and Tommy’s son—free from this ferment of familial dissidence, so much so that—in contrast to the Quaker school in which he is raised after his parents die—it only seems to dimly inform his character. He visits Cicero, the only surviving link to those people, to try and gain an understanding of the past from whence he’s come but never had much of a chance to inhabit. It is Sergius’s trajectory that not only takes us to the present day dissidence of the Occupy Wall Street movement but also concludes the novel.Despite the ways in which all seven of these characters, as well as some of the B-characters in the supporting cast (most notably a skillfully rendered, hallucinatory Archie Bunker who Rose connects with late in her life), manage to be colorful, complicated and intricately intertwined, I’m hard pressed to understand what any of them specifically and believably really want. Were they set free from their omnipotent novelist, I get the impression that each of them might have justifiably beseeched Lethem with that worn cliché of thespians in search of more guidance from their directors: “What is my motivation here?”The novel’s plot seemed weak because (to use a phrase borrowed from the Gotham Writers’ Workshop) no “major dramatic question” is being asked with any force or consistency. It’s all wide-ranging scope without cohesion. It's intricacy of detail that doesn't wholly integrate with the kind of overarching theme or purpose that I consider the backbone of a satisfying novel. To borrow one last time from Hal Parker’s review, Lethem is ambitious in his creation of these characters, but fails to “endow them with unity, purpose, or a deep meaning. We are simply left with a collection of novelistic elements in search of a novel.”Now, I’ve recently noticed that in other reviews, I have a tendency to let myself get carried away contrasting the marketing blurbs from books' exteriors with the experience I had reading what was inside them. In these extended arguments with defenseless and nonexistent opponents, I manage to entertain myself. So here I go again. The blurbs on the back cover of Dissident Gardens—I assume selected or, more accurately, pried from their larger contexts by the guardians of American literature's authenticity toiling in Doubleday’s marketing department—are excerpts from reviews that range from examples of self-contained silliness to tiny bon mots that unintentionally point to where I think the book fell short. First at bat—self-contained silliness.The Boston Globe asserts Lethem “is a verbal performance artist.” What does that even mean? While I rigorously reject those automatic dismissals of avant-garde and otherwise challenging art that comes all too reflexively from corny, bourgeois, David Barryesque mindsets, I can’t deny having impatience with wannabes who cherry pick their own half-assed takes from other disciplines while reaching into a trite bag of post modern shock, absurdity and banality-as-meaning so they can so proudly (and rarely, if ever, ironically—which might at least be redemptive) claim, “voilà—performance art!” So in my mind the The Boston Globe calling Lethem a “verbal performance artist” identifies him as practicing a sort of chicanery which he does not quite deserve to be accused. I’ll give The Boston Globe the benefit of the doubt and assume that provided the context of the entire review, the statement would make more sense to me.I get a much more perverse kick out of the blurb excerpted from The Washington Post’s review (and it also points to what I think is one of Lethem’s weaknesses): “Brilliant … One of the most elegant stylists in the country.” Stylist? Stylist! Every time I read that, inside my head I hear (so loud I sometimes wonder if other people around me, if any are present, can hear it too) Tom Hanks’ character in the big stand up auditions scene near the end of the movie Punchline: “He’s not a dermatologist; he’s a skin stylist—not a dentist, but a tooth stylist, not a barber but a barb, uh … hair stylist! Well … a hair stylist … I guess that would be right.”At the risk of sounding lowbrow, maybe it’s Lethem’s capacity to be an “elegant stylist” that is part of what prevented this novel from rarely revealing the pain, joy and mystery of the human condition in ways that I found compelling (with the exception of that lonely Tommy Gogan chapter). In the same way a Ragù tomato sauce television commercial from my youth would warn that other brands of jarred sauce can result in your spaghetti becoming “lost in the sauce,” maybe Lethem’s writing gets more than a little lost in the style. It can happen.But I think it is The Kansas City Star’s blurb that I like best: “You don’t so much read Lethem; you taste and smell and feel and hear him.” By being completely wrong, this blurb does point to what I found to be the primary shortcoming of Lethem’s novel. He seemed to consistently aim for—and, to be fair, succeed in—engaging my intellect usually at the expense of connecting to my viscera or my senses.For example, we're with Cicero Lookins when he’s a little boy consuming the storied egg creams of New York City’s circa 1959 soda-counters. We sit with his more cynical adult self at the “Five Islands Grill, there to enjoy a glass of cold Sauvignon Blanc, (and) dine on a preliminary of oysters and a plate of their pretty fair foraged-mushroom gnocchi.” At a point in between the previous two, we are inside his head when he’s receiving “the guardians association scholarship award”—which also names the first chapter of the book’s penultimate section—as he introspectively dwells on the momentous event of having “gotten his tongue around its first dick just six weeks earlier.”OK, so surely one if not all of these widely varied slices of Cicero’s life would seem to have presented ideal opportunities where I could not “so much read Lethem” as to, particularly in these examples, experience the “taste” modality of his writing. Yet I can’t provide any examples of where the writing was imbued with this sensuality that transcends mere reading—not because it never happened for me but because I honestly can’t point to where I felt it was being attempted.Don’t assume I’ve framed these specific examples as an exercise in nit picking just for the sake of poking fun at the The Kansas City Star’s blurb. Sure there’s a little of that going on, but as Chaucer said in a line that Shakespeare thought was good enough to borrow for revision, “a man may say full sooth in game and play.”I don’t seek to criticize Lethem for striving and then failing to make me “taste and smell and feel and hear him.” It’s more like I don’t sense that he’s trying to do that nearly often enough.All through this book, Lethem’s prose strikes me as at an emotionally anesthetized and disconcerting cerebral remove from scenes that could have, maybe even should have, connected to me more viscerally. Odder still is that this seemed most evident when the subject material was at its most intensely emotionally charged or carnal.At the beginning of the novel when Rose is being kicked out of the underground American communist cell she and her erstwhile-for-some-time-now husband had belonged to for years, she steps outside with the ringleader of these proceedings, Sol Eaglin. During their conversation she forcefully offers Eaglin an under-her-shirt grope of her abundant boobs, but to me the gesture seemed to come from nowhere and go to the very same place.(view spoiler)[That example of sexual aggression disconnected from any apparent motivation presages a more involved scene much later in the book where Rose’s cousin Lenny—who in this chapter seeks escape from murderous IRA thugs bent on revenge for being on the losing end of a Lenny scheme gone wrong—collides into a quick, sweaty yet consensual incestuous fornication with Rose. Believe me, it’s overall perplexity and not some sort of prudishness or moral outrage that leaves me wanting some sort of believable explanation of their motivations. When, in a rather impromptu manner, second cousins who most of the time don’t seem to really much like each other suddenly decide to energetically fuck one another, I kind of want to know what made them decide to do so. (hide spoiler)] One criticisms Hal Parker makes—at far more length than I share here—in his review is that this book “suffers from a crucial defect: the absence of any real or compelling political ideas.” Here I think Parker misses what I understood to be one of Lethem’s points, perhaps his main one. Kudos to Lethem for ending nicely.(view spoiler)[The book begins with Rose being exiled from the American communist cell she has so loyally served for the trangression of having Douglas Lookins as a lover and ends with these words as Rose’s grandson, Sergius Gogan, is being questioned by another set of prevailing authorities at the Maine airport who have seen, on security camera, him and his only recently met Occupy Wall Street gal fucking in the rest room:"Sergius lay his hands on the table. His plane now gone. This, all this, as it was meant to be. Sergius, arrived here in this crucial indefinite place, this undisclosed location, severed from the life of the planet yet not aloft. Arrived at last at this nowhere in which he became visible before the law.A cell of one, beating like a heart.” Lethem seems to be saying that if we can conclude anything solid from this story of three generations of American dissidents, it is more than “the personal is political” but instead that the personal—our own individual, human experience—is finally far more important than the political. (hide spoiler)]If you take the time to read this, thank you. If you notice typos or grammatical errors, please email me or comment.

  • Mark Gubarenko
    2019-03-30 03:42

    Джонатан Литэм далеко не самый последовательный писатель – за 20-летнюю писательскую карьеру этот выходец из Бруклина в свои 50 успел поработать в разных жанрах.Начал он свою карьеру как писатель-фантаст, но не простой, а с хорошим чувством юмора (в первом его романе одним из персонажей был говорящий кенгуру с оружием). Была и серьезная фантастика. Но спустя пять лет произошла внезапная трансформация.«Сиротский Бруклин» вышел на заре нового миллениума в 1999-ом и, к всеобщему удивлению, оказался крепким детективом. Только, как обычно у Литэма, все не как у людей – чтобы это не было просто очередным хорошим детективом на полке, Литэм решил усложнить своего персонажа и «наградил» его синдромом Туррета. Эта сложность в простоте, возможно, и повлияла на присуждение премии Национального круга книжных критиков. Сразу пошли разговоры об экранизации, о которой пока так ничего и не слышно. Этот мэйнстримовый успех позволил Литэму в одночасье стать знаменитостью для хипстеров.Следующие три года он был занят написанием масштабного полуавтобиографического романа, который вышел под названием «Бастион одиночества». Множество персонажей, проблемный Бруклин 70-х. Очередной успех, и одна из книг года, по версии New York Times.В перерывах между выходом романов у Литэма выходят антологии рассказов. После «Бастиона» были и романы, и рассказы, и интервью, и даже комиксы.Действие его новой книги снова происходит в Бруклине. На этот раз это американцы с очень «левыми» взглядами. По своей структуре «Сады Диссидентов» напоминают другой недавний американский роман «Время смеется последним» Дженнифер Иган. Это не роман в привычном понимании этого слова, это 12 рассказов. Время в этих рассказах разное. От 30-х годов до 2000-х. Объединяют их только семь основных персонажей, членов одной небольшой семьи.Охватывая временной промежуток в более чем 70 лет, этот амбициозный роман валится под тяжестью своих персонажей. Помимо стандартного наделения их проблемами и отвратительным характером – они, как и все персонажи Литэма, очень умные. И постоянно стремятся это показать. Это не нравится людям как в жизни, так и в книгах. Никто не любит умничающих и заносчивых персонажей.Мозаика из 12-ти рассказов складывается очень легко, и нет мыслей, что и после чего происходило, иногда даже жаль, что все так просто. В демократической Америке роман не снискал такой однозначной похвалы, как предыдущие работы Литэма, но нужна ли она ему была?Эту книгу он посвятил своему 80-летнему отцу. В каждой главе видно, что это что-то личное для него. Будь то 30-ые годы и евреи-выходцы из Советского Союза, трудящиеся в тайной ячейке с целью насадить коммунизм в штатах. Списана ли глава семьи Роза Циммер с мамы Джонатана, которая умерла, когда ему было 13? Списаны ли ее проблемы с дочерью с его сестры Мары? Слишком много параллелей с реальной жизнью автора делает чтение довольно интересным процессом.Семейные проблемы и ранняя потеря родителей очень повлияли на его прозу, и «Сады диссидентов» не исключение. По заверениям Литэма, «во всех его романах есть тот гигантский и завывающий потерянный центр – как будто испарилась речь, кто-то исчез или память ушла». Джонатан Литэм Сады диссидентовПеревод: Татьяна Азаркович,596 страницы. CorpusOzon (твердый переплет)Обзор для Журнала МИССИЯ (№120 Ноябрь-Декабрь 2014)

  • Rebecca Foster
    2019-04-07 22:45

    Lethem paints a loving but ambivalent picture of three generations of American rebels. In 1955 Rose Zimmer gets kicked out of the American Communist party. A fearsome single mother who holds powerful grudges, Rose is one of the matriarchs of New York’s Sunnyside Gardens community. Yet her affair with a black policeman is too much for her fellow party Jews to ignore.As Lethem fills in the next half-century of history, readers meet Rose’s ex-husband, Albert, returned to his native Germany to live in Dresden’s “Dissident Gardens”; their daughter Miriam, a feisty revolutionary who approaches every venture with passion, whether a game show or a dangerous protest in Nicaragua; her Irish folk singer husband, Tommy Gogan; their son Sergius, raised among Pennsylvanian Quakers; cousin Lenny, a sexually dubious numismatist; and Cicero Lookins, the cop’s son and a surrogate child to Rose, troubled by his homosexuality but still achieving unexpected success in academia.The narrative leaps backwards and forwards in time, from the 1950s to the present, but remains largely coherent thanks to the dissidence theme and Rose’s constant linking presence. Whether card-carrying Reds, sexual deviants or Occupy protesters, the characters all defy the system in some way. And Rose is a simply unforgettable creation: outspoken and slightly mad, with her Abraham Lincoln shrine, her love of funerals and a legendary head-in-the-oven incident. Everyone is bound, through her, in “fascinated unsympathy.”An arresting, panoramic vision of some prickly and peculiar characters, delivered with Lethem’s trademark linguistic freshness.(Originally published at We Love This Book.)[I’m not sure I’d try anything else by the author on the basis of this one, though I’m always open to persuasion...]

  • Cynthia
    2019-04-15 05:39

    Don’t fence me inOutwardly “Dissident Gardens” is the story of Communist ideology however, it’s really about relationships between family and friends who are as close as family. The time period covered is the 1940’s through the present with a peek back at the thirties and the burgeoning of the East Coast Communist movement. Rose Zimmer* is the matriarch and the main character but the point of view shifts in alternating chapters with those who surround her. Rose is an intelligent and opinionated person who has no fear of imposing her beliefs on others. She also pays for this penchant by alienating her loved ones yet she’s still a marker the others use to define themselves. They loath and love her in equal measure but they can’t escape her even by moving away probably because Rose loves as fiercely as she rants.I’m not sure how I’ve missed Lethem’s books over the years but now that I know what a wonderful writer he is I’ll be reading more from him. The only reason I’m not giving this book 5 stars is because I didn’t feel compelled to continue reading though it right away yet every time I picked it up I was immediately involved with the story no matter which character was the current narrator.*Doesn’t Zimmer mean room in German? If so Lethem’s having a laugh both because her husband who’s name this is is German and because there are no walls that can contain Rose. She’s a force of nature. This review is based on an ebook provided by the publisher.(Disclaimer given as required by the FTC.)

  • Kasa Cotugno
    2019-03-27 00:50

    Jonathan Letham, along with Pete Hammill, is my favorite interpreter of New York. Both are native sons, and each brings his love of the City, its idiosyncratic inhabitants and close lived proclivities. This book may be closest to Letham's heart of all his works. The publisher reveals that he received a picture from him of his great grandmother during a march in the late '30's. She may have provided the model for Rose, one of the two women at the center of this latest book. Rose and her daughter Miriam are united by their passions but not much else. As their stories interweave with those of the other characters, the narrative is almost comprised of interlocking short stories, moving through eras and providing explanations and character studies. There is a grass roots aspect to some of the stories, which only a writer with a true insider knowledge of the eras and the landscape can provide. What was life in New York like for die hard Dodger fans in the face of their defection to the West Coast? What did the Stalin/Hitler pact mean for homegrown Communists? There are passages that are defiantly serious, but there is much that is written with love, humor and beauty. The reader can truly see each character "Dancing in her own minefield."

  • Serf
    2019-03-22 21:56

    I struggled with this book. This is the story of communist Rose and her far reaching family but there is no real story.I felt this was more of a description of the era in which the book was set. He clearly knows NYC and it's people and his descriptions were at times simply artistic in nature. I re read many sentences because they were so beautifully formed.Even though the book tells Roses' life story from beginning to end it just felt like nothing ever happened for me. Maybe his exquisite language distracted me too much from what he was actually trying to say. Hard to know.

  • Laura
    2019-03-25 04:48

    From BBC Radio 4 - Book at Bedtime:By Jonathan Lethem. A compelling story of modern America spanning 80 years.

  • Alan
    2019-03-25 04:48

    Some may think it's time—past time, even—to let the 20th Century slide into the dustbin of history, but Jonathan Lethem isn't ready to let this most eventful of eras go quite so gently. In Dissident Gardens, Lethem does make a nod or two to the post-millennial Occupy movement, but almost all of his 2013 novel is revealed (with the benefit of hindsight) as both a meticulous reconstruction of and an extended paean to the bygone American Century.And it's a damned good read to boot. Lethem moves fluidly from immigrant fervor to postmodern malaise, with stops along the way for World War II, the Sixties and even (whisper it) Communism, all viewed through the sharply focused lens of a Jewish family in New York City's borough of Queens—Rose Zimmer and her daughter Miriam—and the people whose lives touch theirs. After reading Lethem's Fortress of Solitude, I had compared it with Michael Chabon's Telegraph Avenue—but now I think that Dissident Gardens is an even closer sibling to Chabon's book, more lively and more densely-packed than either Lethem's previous novel or Chabon's laid-back West Coast view.The dime on which his rage turned could never be spent.—p.274The further I got into Dissident Gardens, in fact, the more I found myself enjoying the rich flow of Lethem's prose. The voices of its characters are clear and distinct. You can easily hear the harsh syllables of Queens, and distinguish them from the patois of New Jersey.This precision is essential to the novel's success, because while Dissident Gardens ranges over decades, its compass always points to the NY. It's steeped in the very same cultural myopia that led a couple of New Yorkers whom my wife and I met in the Grand Central Market in downtown Los Angeles—while we were surrounded by hundreds if not thousands of shoppers, with millions more people within a few miles of us—to exclaim, without apparent irony, "it's so good to get out of The City."The capital letters were obvious. The primacy of New York City and its immediate environs in Dissident Gardens is equally unquestioned. There are scenes set elsewhere, to be sure—in Maine, or Nicaragua, or wherever—but they are, comparatively, flat and lifeless. To Lethem, at least in this novel, only The City is vivid and real.A major strand of Dissident Gardens' plot concerns the folk music scene in New York City in the 1960s, just before Bob Dylan's takeover. The obvious similarities between Lethem's talented (but decidedly second-rate) Tommy Gogan and the eponymous protagonist of the film Inside Llewyn Davis are as it turns out neither coincidental nor intentional. Both book and film came out in 2013, and according to an online interview with Lethem (which is well worth a look itself), both drew independently upon Dave Van Ronk's memoir The Mayor of MacDougal Street (2005) for inspiration.Another significant theme in Dissident Gardens involves the passage of time, and how it ravages even the strongest of characters. As time has practiced its own voodoo upon me—each nail I clip, every hair I shave, inevitably finds me older and weaker—Lethem's unflinching portrayal of Rose Zimmer's decline, and of the fates of her family, her lovers and friends, resonated strongly with me, making me think also of Roz Chast's visual memoir, Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant?For younger readers, perhaps, this book will have only the dusty tang of a history beyond their immediate experience... but for me, Dissident Gardens vividly evoked a reality that truly existed, and not so very long ago at that.