Dissident Gardens by Jonathan Lethem
A Novel

74%

14 Critic Reviews

Lethem animates these people with intimacy. His prose is oral in its rhythms...its varying tonalities reflecting the inner voices of his characters.
-NPR

Synopsis

A dazzling novel from one of our finest writers—an epic yet intimate family saga about three generations of all-American radicals

At 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 who savages neighbors, family, and political comrades with the ferocity of her personality and the absolutism of her beliefs. Her precocious and willful daughter, Miriam, equally passionate in her activism, flees Rose’s influence to embrace the dawning counterculture of Greenwich Village.
     These women cast spells over the men in their lives: Rose’s aristocratic German Jewish husband, Albert; her cousin, 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. Flawed and idealistic, Lethem’s characters struggle to inhabit the utopian dream 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.
     Lethem’s characters may pursue their fates within History with a capital H, but his novel is—at its mesmerizing, beating heart—about love.


From the Hardcover edition.
 

About Jonathan Lethem

See more books from this Author
JONATHAN LETHEM is the author of six novels, including Motherless Brooklyn,The Fortress of Solitude, and Gun, with Occasional Music. He lives in Brooklyn.
 
Published September 10, 2013 by Vintage. 386 pages
Genres: Literature & Fiction, Political & Social Sciences. Fiction
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Critic reviews for Dissident Gardens
All: 14 | Positive: 10 | Negative: 4

NY Times

Above average
Reviewed by Janet Maslin on Sep 11 2013

In “Dissident Gardens,” a novel jampacked with the human energy of a crowded subway car, Jonathan Lethem attempts a daunting feat: turning three generations’ worth of American leftists into a tragicomic tale of devolution. He has couched this as a family story and written it so that someone’s hot breath is always in the reader’s face.

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NY Times

Above average
Reviewed by YIYUN LI on Sep 05 2013

“Dissident Gardens” seamlessly weaves together three generations, yet it doesn’t broadcast itself as a multigenerational epic, nor is it afflicted by the desire to pose as the next great American novel. It’s an intimate book.

Read Full Review of Dissident Gardens: A Novel | See more reviews from NY Times

Guardian

Below average
Reviewed by Alex Preston on Jan 18 2014

There are some powerful episodes in Lethem's novel – Miriam's trip to Nicaragua, the letters between Miriam and her father, the strikingly effective ending – but others fall flat, stuffed as they are with dogma, speechifying and political niceties.

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Guardian

Good
Reviewed by Rachel Cusk on Jan 11 2014

Lethem has written a brilliant, funny, compendious novel at whose heart lies a sharp, slim blade of thought and style. It is the quality of his perception, his empathy, that makes this material new...

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Publishers Weekly

Excellent
on May 20 2013

Lethem’s writing, as always, packs a witty punch...the book is as illuminating of 20th-century American history as it is of the human burden of overcoming alienation.

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NPR

Good
Reviewed by Mohsin Hamid on Sep 11 2013

Lethem animates these people with intimacy. His prose is oral in its rhythms...its varying tonalities reflecting the inner voices of his characters.

Read Full Review of Dissident Gardens: A Novel | See more reviews from NPR

Financial Times

Good
Reviewed by Ayana Mathis on Jan 24 2014

Whatever its faults, I would be a fool to suggest Dissident Gardens was anything less than a standout novel.

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LA Times

Good
Reviewed by J. Hoberman on Sep 05 2013

"Dissident Gardens" shows Lethem in full possession of his powers as a novelist, as he smoothly segues between historical periods and internal worlds..."Dissident Gardens" is a "hilarious and companionable" novel. It's also erudite, beautifully written, wise, compassionate, heartbreaking and pretty much devoid of nostalgia.

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Toronto Star

Above average
Reviewed by James Grainger on Sep 13 2013

There is still much to recommend in Dissident Gardens: wit, insight, cutting social commentary and many dazzling passages. But like its no-doubt brilliant characters, the novel is too entranced by the sound of its own dissident voice.

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The Economist

Above average
on Feb 01 2014

But while his book is full of opportunities to chuckle, it is too warm-hearted to count as satire. Rather, “Dissident Gardens” is a sympathetic look at New York’s leftists

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AV Club

Good
Reviewed by Gregg LaGambina on Sep 09 2013

Though Dissident Gardens is sometimes overcrowded by all of the things history discards in its wake, including other novels, it has ambition to spare.

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National Post arts

Good
Reviewed by Jose Teodoro on Oct 31 2013

At once affectionate and cognizant of its characters’ hypocrisies and limitations, Dissident Gardens surveys the ongoing revolution in precisely the manner the novel does best: by tending to one revolutionary at a time.

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The Maine Edge

Good
Reviewed by Allen Adams on Sep 11 2013

“Dissident Gardens” paints a frantic, kinetic portrait of a family possessed of such diverse ethnic and ideological idiosyncrasies that it could only be American.

Read Full Review of Dissident Gardens: A Novel

National Post arts

Good
Reviewed by Jose Teodoro on Nov 01 2013

At once affectionate and cognizant of its characters’ hypocrisies and limitations, Dissident Gardens surveys the ongoing revolution in precisely the manner the novel does best: by tending to one revolutionary at a time.

Read Full Review of Dissident Gardens: A Novel | See more reviews from National Post arts

Reader Rating for Dissident Gardens
56%

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