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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Now that was a trial!


So here, the night of her real and final expulsion, on Rose Zimmer's back step she and Sol Eaglin were encompassed in a cool and fragrant evening, false escape from that pressurized, oxygenless kitchen. The innocent babble of voices rising through the Gardens wasn't innocent. The whole place was against her. A minor reference in Eaglin's original phone call had sunk in now. He'd said he and his group would be coming to her fresh from an earlier "meeting"—that elastic and ominous euphemism—to be held just across the way. No doubt, the meeting had concerned Rose directly. A neighbor had denounced her again. But who? Hah! The question, more likely, was which of her neighbors hadn't, by this time? Rose felt the force of this dead utopia, the whole of Sunnyside Gardens corrupted by the onrush of coming disappointment, seeking scapegoats for their stupid guilt at their wasted lives. Rose supposed she made a fair talisman for wasted life.

The Gardens was cold.

Could get colder still.

None among them there knew American Communism wouldn't wake from this particular winter. Oh, the beauty of it! After all Rose had seen and done, to be kicked out bare months before Khrushchev, at the Soviet Congress, aired fact of the Stalin purges. Bare months before rumor of his words leaked across the Atlantic to scald the ears of the devoted American dupes. Then the words themselves, translated in The New York Times. Think how sweet it would have been, to see the hound-eyes of the sober and pretentious executioners waiting inside, on that day. But no, exiling her would be their last glorious act, or at least the last she'd have to endure witness of, these superb indignant wraiths, men dead who didn't know it.

Tonight, none of them knew.

Again, Sol Eaglin made small talk, almost flirty now that they were alone. "How'd you meet this policeman of yours, Rose?"

"Unlike some who dwell only in a Moscow of their dreams, I'm a proud citizen of a locality that includes Italians, Irish, Negroes, Jews, and the occasional Ukrainian peasant. Aren't your people Ukrainian, Sol?"

He only smiled.

"My feet when they walk touch the sidewalks of Queens, they don't float above. My beliefs don't deliver me from a responsibility to the poor degraded human souls in front of my face."

"You mean doing your rounds? What's it called, the Citizens' patrol?"

"That's right, the Citizens' Patrol." The two skated around facts Sol Eaglin obviously knew from her party dossier, the existence of which Sol would deny and which Rose would never be able to prove, yet believed in as a certainty, in the manner with which she had been raised to believe—but failed to believe—in an invisible Jehovah, or that her name was recorded somewhere in the Haggadah secreted in the shul's rosewood cabinet. Her dossier would have told him, undoubtedly, that Rose had begun her affair with the Negro police lieutenant after colonizing the nascent Sunnyside block-watchers' organization and appointing herself the liaison to the Sunnyside precinct house. Perhaps Sol imagined her participation in the Citizens' Patrol was a long ruse, designed to allow her to sidle up to a married man she'd already lusted after. Let Sol think what he wanted. Rose had never glimpsed Douglas Lookins before that day.

She lowered herself to a defense. "A neighborhood watch, Sol. Workers helping other workers, making them feel comfortable walking home from the el after a night shift."

"Some of us can't help being reminded of brownshirts, seeing civilians forming marching societies, whispering on street corners to men in boots."

"You'd like to provoke me into an act of despair or outrage, so you can make a report of my diminished value to the cause. Or more likely you've written this report already and are disappointed I haven't obliged you with a nervous breakdown."

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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