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Dissident Gardens: A Novel
by Jonathan Lethem

Published: 2013-09-10
Hardcover : 384 pages
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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 ...
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Introduction

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.

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Discussion Questions

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In the end, weren’t all the characters trying to sow their own seeds, in their own gardens?
Did any characrters ever find peace and contentment?
Did any ever find peace and contentment? Was this entire novel a metaphor for The Garden of Eden, which also yielded disappointment that was inspired by discontent?
by thewanderingjew (see profile) 03/05/14

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  "Dissident Gardens, Jonathan Lethem"by thewanderingjew (see profile) 03/05/14

With the end of WWII and the failure of the Nazis, the forties are overrun with the fear of the spread of Communism. As the fifties begin, Joe McCarthy finds them under every rock. The Korea... (read more)

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