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Dissident Gardens

by Daniel Scheffler
Contributor
Monday Oct 14, 2013
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From the creator of the genius "The Fortress of Solitude" comes his latest offering, and a whole lot of offering it is: "Dissident Gardens." Jonathan Lethem, a New Yorker in heart and mind, has brought "Chronic City" and "Motherless Brooklyn" to life with gusto, grappling handsomeness and a whole lot of crazy ideas, thoughts and genre bending.

Now, with his new novel, Lethem writes about the American leftists, what he calls the "red-diaper baby generation trying to figure out what it all means, this legacy of American Communism." It is yet again a neighborhood book of the greatest city in the world - this time Queens (Sunnyside Gardens to be exact) and Greenwich Village. There is no Sci-fi this time and, no genre bending either. It’s straight up a revolution of 80 years of three generations - all standing up straight and fighting for what they believe in.

Underneath all this seemingly utopian generational novel is actually a story about love, both for thyself and love for others. The characters feel it, hold it and then squeeze it. And only Lethem knows how to get them from here to there. The women cast spells on the men, and then men empower the women.

But Lethem attempts with great success to shine light on a very fundamental issue we have in the right now: Who’s playing god, and who is god when it comes to this little life.

The book so smartly, and almost with an "At Last" exclamation, questions revolutions and revolutionaries. Are they all selfless martyrs or the exact opposite? Where is this leftism really and where does it all stem from? And, maybe mostly interestingly, if you go so far left (hello Bill De Blasio?) are you not suddenly on the right? Radicalism is so far from finite, so tricky to define, that its very nature could never be explained in a novel. But Lethem attempts with great success to shine light on a very fundamental issue we have in the right now: Who’s playing God, and who is God when it comes to this little life?

Lethem loves to be literary; it’s his happy space. He sprinkles words and more words all over the pages, and he does it beautifully. He’s underrated, he’s wonderfully sharp, and he’s so Brooklyn - so right now. He details the characters in this book with astute glee; we know them better than we know our families, and definitely much better than our friends. They feel more real than daylight and the ocean spray on the Hudson River as it licks Greenwich Village. The steam from subways and our ideals, as humans, become one. In a brownstone you ask?

"Dissident Gardens"
Jonathan Lethem
$19.51
Doubleday

by Jonathan Lethem

Daniel Scheffler is a writer who spends his time in New York, Cape Town and India. Follow him on Twitter @danielscheffler

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