Excerpt from Dissident Gardens by Jonathan Lethem, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Dissident Gardens

A Novel

by Jonathan Lethem

Dissident Gardens by Jonathan Lethem X
Dissident Gardens by Jonathan Lethem
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2013, 384 pages
    Jun 2014, 384 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte

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Yet Rose's usual fury was inadequate to the occasion. This kitchenful of moral bandits, even Eaglin, appeared to her sealed in distance, voices dim. The room's events unspooled before her as if scripted, something happening not to her but to another. A one-act play, worthy of Sunnyside's Socialist theater troupe, set in Rose's kitchen and starring her body—her body's behaviors being the matter under disputation—but no further portion. Heart, if bosom contained one anymore, not in attendance. Rose no longer here. This excommunication something that had already long ago been concluded. She warmed and refilled coffee, gracing the lynch mob with use of her mother-in-law's Meissen china, even while they alluded, in terms just oblique enough to salve their own shame but not hers, to Rose's sex life. Presumed to tell her who to fuck. Who not to fuck, exactly. Or, not to fuck at all. Not to make her own bedroom solidarities with men who, unlike themselves, had the stature and self-possession to want her, to be undeferential to Rose.

For these occupiers of her kitchen, even in their executioner's errand, were pathetically deferential: to Rose's force, to her history, to her chest twice the circumference of theirs. She who'd marched in protest of Hitler's New York birthday party on Fifth Avenue, while American brownshirts pelted her with rotten vegetables. She who'd marched for blacks practically before they marched for themselves. Bringing revolution to Negroes, fine. To have one particular black cop in her sheets, not so fine. Oh hypocrites! Their incessant, mealy-mouthed usage, again and again droning out of the fog of their talk, was "associations." They were troubled by her associations. They meant, of course, the association of her rapidly aging Jew Communist vagina with the black lieutenant's sturdy and affectionate penis.

Yet Rose took orders like a mad lobotomized waitress: A little milk, or cream? With sugar? Oh, you like it black, perhaps? So do I. Her tongue stayed stopped, wit unexpressed. A recording secretary, she recorded. Shorthanded her own tribunal as she would that of another, onto some distant mind's tablet. Shorthand, even mental shorthand, an act of fingers scratching at some page barely registered by the mind itself. Here's Rose Zimmer, née Angrush, the scourge of Sunnyside, she who ought to be punching like a boxer against the elastic shadows that filled her kitchen, these ghastly shades of doctrine, and she couldn't care. This second trial was, really, only a lousy parody of the first. That first one, that had been something. Then, Rose was important in American Communism. Then, she'd been importantly Communistically married, about to be importantly Communistically divorced. Then, she'd been young. She wasn't anymore.

Now mental pen quit scraping mental tablet. Rose receded even further from the events before her, a present life under assault of disarrangement. "Eaglin?" she said, interrupting some droning insinuation. "Yes, Rose?"

"Come outside."

The nervous glances that ensued, Eaglin quelled, using his brow like an orchestra conductor would a wand, to cease his players' tuning. And then he and Rose stepped outside, into the air of the Gardens.


The ashtray was a pure fetish: obloid, smooth-polished black granite, weighing enough to use as a stop against a pressure-hinged door or indent a man's skull. Finding it full yet again of Pall Mall stubs, you'd lug it to the kitchen with both hands to overturn it in Alma Zimmer's trash. Then rinse it in the sink, for Alma, Rose's unwilling mother-in-law, had made it plain she liked to see it come back gleaming again—never mind that three or four smokers, Albert's comrades, might be waiting to stub by the time you returned. Imagine making room for that ashtray in your bags as you fled Lübeck! Alma had done so. Who knew who'd hoisted that baggage, whose wrists the ashtray and the load of paper-wrapped Meissen had strained? Surely not Alma's. Porters, Rose supposed, and when no porter was available, Alma's brother, Lukas, or Alma's son, Albert. Albert Zimmer. Rose's future husband, a rich Jew deluded he was German even as the Nazis marched.

Excerpted from Dissident Gardens by Jonathan Lethem. Copyright © 2013 by Jonathan Lethem. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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