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Dissident Gardens

3.27  ·  Rating details ·  3,570 ratings  ·  566 reviews
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 and mercurial tyrant who terrorizes her neighborhood and her famil
Hardcover, 366 pages
Published September 5th 2013 by Jonathan Cape (first published 2013)
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Apr 09, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
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
Apr 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Life of the Mind in Queens

Bet 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..." Th
Oct 14, 2013 rated it it was ok
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'
Sep 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Jonfaith by: Greg
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.

Jeff Buddle
Sep 11, 2013 rated it liked it
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 ...more
Violet wells
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 comm
Sep 10, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: usa, fiction
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
Jan Rice
Jan 13, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, politics
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
May 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Gary  the Bookworm
Aug 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were only walls.
Joseph Campbell

Jonathan 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
Mar 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
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!
Oct 17, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2013
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 ordinar
Panos Tserolas
Jan 01, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 οικο
Oct 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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, ...more
Oct 14, 2013 rated it it was ok
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 pl ...more
Sep 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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 h ...more
Oct 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Ron Charles
Aug 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
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? Wh
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 p
Oct 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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.
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), ...more
Mattia Ravasi
Oct 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Video review

One of Lethem's most ambitious works, Dissident Gardens surprises because of its normalcy: a straight-up no-nonsense choral historical novel on the history of Communism (and protest) in twentieth century America. Packed full of unforgettable characters.
Sep 09, 2013 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sep 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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 t ...more
Mark Gubarenko
Aug 27, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: in-russian, for-work
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
Jul 29, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Nov 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
Don’t fence me in

Outwardly “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
Kasa Cotugno
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
Jun 03, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015-reads
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 langua
Jan 18, 2014 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Bettie, Carey, Wanda
From BBC Radio 4 - Book at Bedtime:
By Jonathan Lethem. A compelling story of modern America spanning 80 years
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Jonathan Allen Lethem (born February 19, 1964) is an American novelist, essayist and short story writer.

His first novel, Gun, with Occasional Music, a genre work that mixed elements of science fiction and detective fiction, was published in 1994. It was followed by three more science fiction novels. In 1999, Lethem published Motherless Brooklyn, a National Book Critics Circle Award-winning novel t
“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.” 4 likes
“(I)t was by Cicero's attainments that that he'd gained special witness to the liberals' adjustment to a brush with actual equality.” 1 likes
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