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A New York Times Notable Book
One of the Best Books of the Year: Chicago Tribune, Village Voice, The Globe and Mail
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.
About the Author
JONATHAN LETHEM is the New York Times bestselling author of nine novels, including Chronic City, The Fortress of Solitude, and Motherless Brooklyn, and of 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 Magazine, Rolling Stone, Esquire, and The New York Times, among other publications.
Praise for Dissident Gardens…
“The year’s best novel.” —The New Republic
“Emotionally complex, stylistically sophisticated. . . . As a story about a quarrelsome family entangled with impossible ideals, it’s touchingly universal.” —The Washington Post
“A typically Lethem-esque cast of zanies, communalists, sexual adventurers, innocents, druggies, dreamers, and do-gooders . . . whose lives collide and clash with gut-busting humor, heart, and hubris.” —Elle
“As ambitious as Mailer, as funny as Philip Roth and as stinging as Bob Dylan . . . Dissident Gardens shows Lethem in full possession of his powers as a novelist, as he smoothly segues between historical periods and internal worlds . . . Erudite, beautifully written, wise, compassionate, heartbreaking and pretty much devoid of nostalgia.” —Los Angeles Times
“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.” —The New York Times Book Review
“A tour de force, a brilliant, satiric journey through America's dissident history.”—The Star Tribune
“Lethem has artfully blended, redefined, ignored, satirized and enriched the traditional categories of fiction.” —The Plain Dealer
“Remarkable. . . . Lethem's best novel since Motherless Brooklyn. . . . Crackle[s] with wordplay and intelligence.” —The Miami Herald
“The writing soars. . . . Lethem can riff with the best, spinning knockout lines that make you stop and stare . . . while you admire a sentence’s every turn.” —The Seattle Times
“An assured, expert literary performance by one of our most important writers. . . . Magnificent.” —Los Angeles Review of Books
“Brilliantly caustic and deeply moving. . . . Rather than a history book writ small, we realize, this is a powerful family portrait writ large.” —Haaretz (Israel)
“A brilliant, funny, compendious novel at whose heart lies a sharp, slim blade of thought and style. It is the quality of [Lethem’s] perception, his empathy, that makes this material new: that sharpness is the sharpness of a mind at work, re-radicalizing a radical era with notions both literary and political that are outside itself.” —The Guardian (London)
“A righteous, stupendously involving novel about the personal toll of failed political movements and the perplexing obstacles to doing good. . . . Lethem is breathtaking in this torrent of potent voices, searing ironies, pop-culture allusions, and tragicomic complexities.” —Booklist (starred review)
“The cast is a heady, swirly mix of fascinating, lonely people. Lethem's writing, as always, packs a witty punch. . . . As illuminating of 20th-century American history as it is of the human burden of overcoming alienation.” —Publishers Weekly