• Review
By – July 22, 2019

What real­ly hap­pened dur­ing the 1960s? Rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies lays bare the promise, hope, and often the ugly truth of the coun­ter­cul­ture move­ment of the late 60s and ear­ly 70s. Joshua Furst’s sec­ond nov­el crafti­ly cap­tures the images, nuances, and essence of those times.

Brook­lynite Lenny Sny­der, a thin­ly dis­guised Abbie Hoff­man, learns his activist ropes as a free­dom fight­er and at com­mu­ni­ty and col­lege sit-ins, march­es, and protest events. The brash, boast­ful, and charis­mat­ic Lenny grad­u­ates to nation­al fame with his civ­il dis­rup­tions, high vis­i­bil­i­ty, and his made-for-TV antics at the New York Stock Exchange and Lin­coln Cen­ter. His rec­og­niz­able face and slo­gans adorn t‑shirts and books, and he becomes an acknowl­edged leader of the anti-war, civ­il rights, and flower pow­er causes.

Lenny’s sto­ry is nar­rat­ed by his son, Fred, short for Free­dom, twen­ty-eight years after Lenny’s death. Fred, who was con­ceived on the Great Lawn of Cen­tral Park with thou­sands of onlook­ers, looks back at his neglect­ful and painful child­hood with cyn­i­cism yet com­pas­sion. His child­hood voice is imbued with wis­dom and under­stand­ing in con­vey­ing what it was like to be a back­stage child at the revolution.

Fred chron­i­cles his life grow­ing up among the famous and infa­mous as one of no bounds, no nor­mal­cy, no school, and often wit­ness­ing and liv­ing with the excess­es of drugs, sex, and rock n’ roll. He describes a life of chaos, fear, and bore­dom grow­ing up in the dan­ger­ous East Vil­lage. His straight­for­ward tale is an account of Lenny’s ego­tism, cun­ning, and dishonesty.

While Fred often views Lenny from afar, his life with his moth­er, Suzy, is more inti­mate. Suzy has left her com­fort­able Long Island home and her sur­vivor par­ents to be Lenny’s part­ner in the rev­o­lu­tion. Despite her ample abil­i­ties and intel­lect, she is seen only as Lenny’s wife and is remark­ably depen­dent upon him. When Lenny goes under­ground after a drug bust, she sad­ly spi­rals down into drugs and depres­sion. Young Fred becomes her par­ent as they spend years liv­ing in squalor and pover­ty while schem­ing to sur­vive and some­day reunite with the on-the-run, unfaith­ful Lenny.

The novel’s his­tor­i­cal ref­er­ences and back­ground infor­ma­tion are detailed and rich. Those who weren’t yet alive as well as those who remem­ber the 60s will be treat­ed to a descrip­tive archive of names, events, and places. Read­ers will rec­og­nize many famous names and char­ac­ters of the resistance.

Fred acknowl­edges that his com­ing-of-age sto­ry is com­pli­cat­ed. The rev­o­lu­tion spawned false prophets who had great dreams; its con­scious­ness sought peace but often explod­ed into vio­lence, and urged action but advised tun­ing in, turn­ing on, and drop­ping out. Although Fred har­bors anger and bit­ter­ness, he also under­stands the opti­mism and strug­gles of the times. He pon­ders whether com­plete free­dom is ever possible.

This is a beau­ti­ful­ly writ­ten, absorb­ing, and intense polit­i­cal and social nov­el. The read­er may feel con­dem­na­tion as well as respect for the rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies. Fred’s telling of this mem­o­rable and dis­turb­ing sto­ry puts a human focus on the 1960s landscape.

Reni­ta Last is a mem­ber of the Nas­sau Region of Hadassah’s Exec­u­tive Board. She has coor­di­nat­ed the Film Forum Series for the Region and served as Pro­gram­ming and Health Coor­di­na­tors and as a mem­ber of the Advo­ca­cy Committee.

She has vol­un­teered as a docent at the Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al and Tol­er­ance Cen­ter of Nas­sau Coun­ty teach­ing the all- impor­tant lessons of the Holo­caust and tol­er­ance. A retired teacher of the Gift­ed and Tal­ent­ed, she loves par­tic­i­pat­ing in book clubs and writ­ing projects.

Discussion Questions