Dissident Gardens (Signed Book)

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Overview

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 family with the ferocity of her personality and the absolutism of her beliefs. Her brilliant and willful ...

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Dissident Gardens: A Novel

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Overview

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 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.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

Over three generations and ever-changing historical tides, the dissident gardens of the title grow in unpredictable ways in Sunnyside, Queens. Presiding over the dissidence is Rose Zimmer, a ferocious, unrepentant American Communist Party member who terrorizes her neighbors with her citizen patrols, angry outbursts, and petitions. Her independent-minded daughter Miriam takes a different route, becoming deeply involved with the lifestyle and political revolutions of bohemian Greenwich Village. Hovering near these female powerhouses are several men, including husbands, lovers, sons, and chess hustlers. Jonathan Lethem (Motherless Brooklyn; Fortress of Solitude) has produced another ensemble novel of sharp character portrayal and subtle social commentary.

Barnes & Noble.com
"While collective memory might offer some hazy grasp of McCarthyism and the Hollywood black-lists, all but forgotten is the real American Communist Party and its Depression-era heyday. In this epic and complex new novel, Lethem considers what happened to the ACP, as well as some other questions, about material isolation and filial resentment...The cast makes for a heady, swirly mix of fascinating, lonely people. Lethem's writing, as always, packs a witty punch. The epoch each character inhabits is artfully etched and the book is as illuminating of 20th-century American history as it is of the human burden of overcoming alienation."
Publishers Weekly

"Lethem extends his stylistically diverse, loosely aligned, deeply inquiring saga of New York City (Motherless Brooklyn, 1999; The Fortress of Solitude, 2003; Chronic City, 2009) with a richly saturated, multigenerational novel about a fractured family of dissidents headquartered in Queens...Lethem is breathtaking in this torrent of potent voices, searing ironies, pop-culture allusions, and tragicomic complexities. He shreds the folk scene, eviscerates quiz shows, pays bizarre tribute to Archie Bunker, and offers unusual perspectives on societal debates and tragic injustices. A righteous, stupendously involving novel about the personal toll of failed political movements and the perplexing obstacles to doing good."
Booklist, starred review

"[A] stunning new novel...Spanning several major events — from 1930s McCarthyism through the recent Occupy Wall Street movement —  and featuring an imaginative nonlinear time sequence so that the novel's particulars arrive at unexpected moments, this work is a moving, hilarious satire of American ideology and utopian dreams...Lethem enthusiasts may find this to be his best yet. Very highly recommended."
Library Journal, starred review

"A dysfunctional family embodies a dysfunctional epoch, as the novelist continues his ambitious journey through decades, generations and the boroughs of New York...The setup of this novel is so frequently funny that it reads like homage to classic Philip Roth."
Kirkus Reviews

"[This] novel's powerful and polarizing cultural, political, and racial energies are animated by a typically Lethem-esque cast of zanies, communalists, sexual adventurers, innocents, druggies, dreamers, and do-gooders — cosmopolitans all — whose lives collide and clash with gut-busting humor, heart, and hubris, which Lethem delivers in his seductively vertiginous prose."
Elle

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385538411
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/10/2013
  • Sales rank: 318,504
  • Product dimensions: 6.64 (w) x 9.34 (h) x 1.36 (d)

Meet the Author

Jonathan  Lethem

JONATHAN LETHEM is the New York Times bestselling author of nine novels, including Chronic City, The Fortress of Solitude, Motherless Brooklyn, and the nonfiction collection The Ecstasy of Influence, a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist. A recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship and winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction, Lethem’s work has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s, Rolling Stone, Esquire, and The New York Times, among other publications.

Biography

The son of artists and activists, Jonathan Lethem has always been surrounded by art and archetypes. His father, avant-garde painter Richard Brown Lethem, ensured that the household was always bustling with fellow artists, live nude models, and a creative spirit. Despite the nurturing, artistic setting, Lethem's teen years were demanding -- his mother died of cancer when he was 14, and the streets of his Brooklyn neighborhood forced him to toughen up at a young age.

Lethem's Brooklyn is rich with history and stories. Much of the world knows Brooklyn through the movies and television -- as an urban maze just outside the glitter of Manhattan. But Lethem's novels deliver a more emotional and brutal reality of the streets he called home (and still does). The Brooklyn culture of his childhood became the sidewalk on which he built his critically acclaimed Motherless Brooklyn, which won a National Book Critics Circle Award.

Lethem attended the High School for Music and Art in NYC, where he studied painting but began to hone his love of literature. An insatiable reader, he read the classic and the contemporary, including Kerouac, Mailer, Vonnegut, Chandler, Dostoevsky, Orwell, and Kafka. While still in high school, he finished a 125-page novel called Heroes. It was never published but is rumored to be the earliest form of what became The Fortress of Solitude.

After high school, Lethem attended Bennington College in Vermont but dropped out after the first semester to work on his writing. He returned to Bennington briefly, but eventually made the move to California, hitchhiking his way across the country to arrive in Berkeley in 1984. This experience, and the years he spent in San Francisco, provided the inspiration for his first three novels, Amnesia Moon(1995), As She Climbed Across the Table (1997), and Girl in Landscape (1998).

In late 1996, Lethem moved back to Brooklyn and began writing the book that would put him on the lips of every publisher and reader in the country. When Motherless Brooklyn was released in 1999, readers fell in love with its fascinating lead characters, relentless plot, and detailed setting. It was an instant success and won many awards, including the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Lethem's long-awaited next novel, The Fortress of Solitude, hit the shelves four years later, in 2003. He conducted a lot of research for the book, gaining yet another perspective on his beloved hometown. The novel is again set in Brooklyn, on Dean Street, where Lethem grew up. Over three decades, the two lead characters -- Dylan and Mingus -- experience the world through the prisms of race relations, music, and pop culture in a disturbing and compelling story of loyalty and loss, vulnerability and superhero powers.

Outside of novels, Lethem has published short fiction and lent his editing talents to a number of projects. Odd and shocking, This Shape We're In (an extended short story) is about an unforgettable trip to the hospital. The Wall of the Sky, the Wall of the Eye is a collection of seven short stories about everything from clones to professional basketball. Lethem and coauthor Carter Scholz have fun with the master of the bizarre in Kafka Americana: Fiction, a book of short stories with Kafka as the main character navigating absurd situations. Lethem edited The Vintage Book of Amnesia, short stories about the art of forgetting by such authors as Philip K. Dick, Martin Amis, and Shirley Jackson. He was guest editor of The Year's Best Music Writing 2002, essays by writers on music.

Good To Know

Lethem's original artistic impulse was to be a painter. While he remains a talented graphic artist, he first acknowledged his deep desire to write while at Bennington, where fellow classmates included Bret Easton Ellis and Donna Tartt.

Before he was a published writer, Lethem's only other jobs were in bookstores. His first bookstore job was at age 13, and he supported himself this way up to 1994 when his first novel was published. In San Francisco, he worked at the well-known Moe's Books, home of rare and antique tomes.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Jonathan Allan Lethem (full name)
    2. Hometown:
      New York, New York
    1. Education:
      Left Bennington College after two years

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3
( 11 )
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(3)

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Sort by: Showing all of 11 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 8, 2013

    This book was so bad cound not imagine how any editor would publish it how did it get on the editorial review lists without anyone noticing there wasnt anyway to follow a plot

    New york times should be offering us a rebate! If it had been a food product they would have a nation wide recall of the product how did it get by or was it like the emperors new clothes? This book didnt have on its night shirt

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 29, 2013

    Heard a review on NPR. Was wait-listed for the book at my libra

    Heard a review on NPR. Was wait-listed for the book at my library. Surprised at how quickly I got it. Then I started reading it. I struggled with 5 chapters before I gave up. Despite my interest in the topic and time period, I found the writing difficult and inaccessible. I have a law degree but this book was just too much work.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 6, 2014

    Very good

    A slow start but an excellent read

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 18, 2013

    I'm having trouble getting through it.

    I'll let you know when/if I finish it.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 4, 2013

    An amazing book. Lethem does it again. 

    An amazing book. Lethem does it again. 

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 18, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted November 5, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted September 29, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted September 15, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted October 5, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted December 2, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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