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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Both therefore forced, at some point, to bite a tongue and hear the other. Until, as they tussled for dominance in pursuit of an identical outcome, some other form of tussle emerged in the thinking of both, and the hall's other occupants melted away into irrelevance. Albert thinking: Who is this young Emma Goldman, this zaftig Brooklyn shtetl girl in the hand-sewn dress, covering the Yiddish parts of her speech with elegant rhetoric, with comical double-feature at the Loew's Britishisms? Rose thinking: Who is this fair Germanic professorially handsome fellow in suspenders and gold-rimmed glasses—and can he possibly be, as he claims in his speech, Jewish? This was, you did have to admit, screwball comedy, but such as no Red-leaning Jew playwright, vamoosed to Hollywood, would ever dare committing to paper: Sent to convert the Young People of Gramercy, the two lost sight of their marks, becoming each other's marks instead.

Their infatuation was above all a meeting of two intellects gleaming with the same exalted certainties, two wills emboldened by the same great cause, and they were still uncovering this extent of their political sympathies (though "political" was too limited a term, insufficient to describe what joining the greatest movement of human history had done for their sense of what life itself was for), gabbing a mile a minute, barely able to stop talking to eat the food that sat cooling on the table where she'd cooked it for him in the kitchen of his flat, or to sip the wine they'd poured but in their intoxication with the cause hardly needed, when Albert first unbuttoned her dress and his trousers. So the tussle, begun in full public view, now was consummated behind closed doors.

For a little while, Rose and Albert lapsed in their attendance to all urgencies, except those of a cell of two. Two fronts moving as one. Full synthesis achieved and lost on a nightly basis.

Then, when Rose missed three menstruations, married. What could be so wrong? They were two Jews. Two humans. Two believers in revolution. In the eyes of anyone but their families, a matched pair. Any "real American" would have heard his German accent as close kin if not identical to her parents' Yiddish. He was fair and she was dark, sure. But spiritually, they could be taken for brother and sister. Certainly Albert and Rose found themselves allied utterly, proudly so, in the glance of any hater of Jews or revolutionists. Wouldn't the cause soon erase all such distinctions of class and creed and race, weren't enlightened and secular Communists abandoning inhibition to mate furiously with goyim, female comrade seeking camaraderie with male comrade whether Irish or Italian or otherwise? Wasn't any child seeded across some obsolete boundary or prohibition an ideal mongrel citizen of the future world every comrade ought to seek to bring into being?

Try telling it to the Jews. At their futzed-together, hasty wedding (which nevertheless had no reason not to be as sweet as their own private love still could be in that time) (never mind how soon that time had been destined to pass) (never mind the appetites that had been lit in Rose in that brief interval) (never mind, never mind), Alma and her brother high-hatted the Angrush clan, that whole chaotic array of Rose's sisters and their husbands and their broods, the innumerable cousins, as though the shtetl progenitors had been summoned to populate a Brooklyn they'd been mistakenly informed was vacant of Jews. Alma and her brother, the vain and elderly and most probably inverted Lukas, treated Rose's family like the servants they'd been forced to terminate just before fleeing Lübeck. The Zimmers, the progressive, the enlightened, the worldly Zimmers, in the face non-German Jews, semireligious Jews, village Jews, felt their own place instantly: above them. This union was not what world revolution was meant to make possible, thank you very much!

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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