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Dissident Gardens: A Novel Hardcover – September 10, 2013
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Top Customer Reviews
I expected to fall in love with this book, but I was disappointed for several reasons. It's too topical, over-written, and tries to tell too many stories. And what it up with that cover? It's the ugliest book jacket ever.
As a boomer, the subject matter and the times are of great interest to me. But recently I'm finding books that try to incorporate every political and social cliché from the last 50 years. I've lived through those decades, and while most of us were influenced by the events, we were not directly touched by every single one of them. Here we meet communists, the Sandinistas, the Occupy movement, the `60's folk music craze, gay people coming out, detention by FTA authorities, East German spies, etc, etc. I had the same problem with "The Interestings" and several other books.
Despite much well-crafted writing, this is yet another book in search of a merciless editor. There are some true gems embedded within the text, and the trick is to find them. At just over 360 pages, "Dissident Gardens" gets bogged down with lots of language and feels like a much longer read.
Of the three generations of radicals whose stories are told, I was only intrigued by the first two, Rose and Miriam. I am very grateful for interesting women. Fortunately, each chapter centers around one of three, and I chose to skim lots of Sergius.
I think "Dissident Gardens" isn't sure which story it wants to tell. I wish authors would decide what they want to focus on, depicting a flavor of an era without cluttering the plot. All the elements of a great book are here. I'd like to just cut it up and paste the best parts back together.
Paragraph by paragraph he's a miracle worker, but I am not sure he achieved his aim in this novel. If you have no tolerance for radicals or of folksingers, you'll hate this. If you want your stories with a direct bang and a lot of compact drama, stop after the first few chapters and spare yourself. But if you want to understand how the legacy of an idealistic movement works on people after the movement has betrayed itself and is over, and on their children, this is for you. Maybe someday Lethem will write about what happened to the hippies and war protesters of the 60s and to their children.
Ultimately, if you have patience and like the sometimes florid narrative style Lethem uses here, and are willing to let some mysteries hang, you'll be rewarded. If you don't mind plenty of what might seem extraneous information and observation, stay the course. Otherwise stay away.
What a disappointment, then, for the first time ever, to have to say that he's lost the plot. Literally.
DISSIDENT GARDENS (eesh, what a clunky title) tells the story of idealism (mostly of the Communist variety) as it waxes, wanes, and morphs through a family over the years. It's a character-driven novel, as very little of any note happens at all, most of the narration spent on describing emotions, hopes, beliefs, and the way life can grind away at your ideals with its stubborn real-world setbacks and provincialism. This might have worked had the characters been more interesting, but there's really not much to these people. They believe in certain things but -- although pages and pages are spent describing these beliefs -- they are rarely very clearly drawn or explained.
That's probably because -- and I can't believe I'm saying this -- the book is overwritten to the point of exhaustion. I can't believe this is the same guy who wrote Motherless Brooklyn or Chronic City.Read more ›
As She Climbed Across the Table, my sentimental favorite is a send-up of academia and science fiction. The faculty Christmas party rivals anything in Richard Russo's Straight Man. Girl in Landscape, another personal favorite combined science fiction with western, (John Ford type westerns) and Amnesia Moon is Lethem's riff on post apocalyptic novels.
My overall favorite of all his novels is Motherless Brooklyn. The characters were vivid and developed, the setting is a character and the action is always moving. A main character with Tourette's Syndrome had to be a challenge but Lethem walked a fine line between believability and not allowing the disability to be a main focus. It was like detective with an alcohol problem. I have to admit that I read but was not a fan of Fortress of Solitude. I found it dense and in need of editing. I find the same is true with Dissident Gardens.
This is a hard novel to review because there just is so much packed in to it. I found the novel badly in need of editing. There are too many stories swirling around and they tend to break up the momentum.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Jonathan Lethem is one of the big names in American fiction at the present time, but his novel about a Communist living in New York in the postwar era, *Dissident Gardens*, is... Read morePublished 4 months ago by Jeffrey Rubard
It's a well constructed story, and a few of the characters (Tommy Gogan and Miriam in particular) are especially sympathetic and well drawn. Liked it but didn't love it though. Read morePublished 4 months ago by Scout 44
I found it very difficult to read. Whomever translated it could have done a much better job. I tried several times to read the book, but it was just too difficult, so gave up. Read morePublished 5 months ago by kathy steenson
I'm a Lethem fan but this one was a challenge. It's over-written and a bit of a slog. Sometimes you can be too much in love with your own writing skills. Read morePublished 7 months ago by John Towsen
I found this to be an excellent book and very interesting. My main criticism is that it is difficult to read; partially because it jumps around a lot, and I had to figure out the... Read morePublished 8 months ago by Nancy
great subject, well written and detailed but not as good as his others... not a favPublished 10 months ago by Lanie//nyfla
Despite its many accolades and awards, this book is difficult to read, it doesn't follow a plot line, the characters don't lend themselves to being sympathetic and are often hard... Read morePublished 10 months ago by Renee B. Simon