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A Partial History of Lost Causes: A Novel (edition 2012)

by Jennifer DuBois

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2432747,405 (3.82)20
Member:reluctantm
Title:A Partial History of Lost Causes: A Novel
Authors:Jennifer DuBois
Info:Dial Press Trade Paperback (2012), Paperback, 400 pages
Collections:read in 2013, Read but unowned
Rating:***
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A Partial History of Lost Causes by Jennifer Dubois

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Showing 1-5 of 28 (next | show all)
A Russian chess master/political candidate and a young American woman whose lives intersect.
  wcbookclub | Mar 18, 2014 |
Players in the chess game of life
By Laura Lanik on March 23, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Life is like a chess game and A Partial History of Lost Causes is the manual on how to live a life doomed to be interrupted by death. A Partial History of Lost Causes is the story of two unique individuals and their journey through life to a crossroads where their lives intersect.

Alexsandr's character is loosely based on the real life Russian chess champion Garry Kasparov. Alexsandr is the King of the novel who retires from chess and decides to run a losing campaign against Putin. He surrounds himself with pawns who support his political game that is ultimately controlled by Vladimir Putin. Yet he cannot forget the woman he loved in his youth and he is haunted by his friend Ivan's death.

Irina is a thirty something American who is awaiting the onset of Huntington's disease which she inherited from her father. The Queen of the novel, she escapes to Russia after finding a letter her father wrote to Alexsandr. Irina is fighting a losing battle against a horrible illness and she is hoping Alexsandr can answer her father's question and thereby help her go on with her life. She does not know how to live a life that is doomed.

A Partial History of Lost Causes is one meaty, multi-layered story. The novel gives the reader a lot to learn and discuss. Alexsandr and Irina are both lost causes and the theme of the story runs throughout the book. Dubois's writing is beautiful and her descriptions are unique and imaginative.

Every once in a awhile a book comes along that takes place in a part of the world that is part of your own personal history. The history of the book covers an era or a time that you remember being a small part of. A Partial History of Lost Causes takes place in St Petersburg and Moscow, Russia from 1979 to 2008. ( )
  lmbigens | Sep 24, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This is one of the most beautifully written books I've read in a very long time. It's almost hard to believe that it's a first novel but I suppose that's a silly thing to say because even brilliant writers have to have a first novel, right?

I've always had a passing interest in Russian history so I fell right into the story of Aleksandr, former chess great become political activist, and his experience of first the USSR then Russia from the 1980s into the first decade of the 21st century. Equally, I've often wondered how a person with a terminal and debilitating illness might face their fate and Ms DuBois does an admirable job of explicating just such a situation.

There are far more page corners dog-eared in this book than I usually allow myself and all done to keep track of beautiful turns of phrase. If for no other reason I look forward to her second novel due in September and, in the meantime, encourage all readers of literary fiction to try this one, first. ( )
  karen_o | Jul 29, 2013 |
A very smart and mature book written by a first time author. The plot involves Irina Ellison a young lady whose dad becomes becomes intensely interested in a famous Russian chess champion. He decides to write a letter with questions to him but he doesn't get a response. After he passes away Irina decides to go on a quest to Russia to find the answers that her father hoped for. The book is well written and a good insight into the dysfunctional state of modern Russian politics as when the book takes place the chess star as decided to run for president against Vladmir Putin. It is also a testament to a daughter's love for her father. Ms. Dubois is an up and coming author we will be hearing a lot from in the future. ( )
  muddyboy | Jul 4, 2013 |
Let's just start with: I adored this book. It's going on my list of all-time favorites. It was beautifully written, with hilarity and sarcasm etched in to take the sting out of the overall sadness of the characters' situations and the painful, ridiculous decisions made along the way. To be honest, I decided to read A Partial History of Lost Causes by Jennifer DuBois because I loved the title and I loved the cover, and the description sounded unique and interesting. I'm obviously glad I did.

The story is told in chapters which alternate between the perspectives of two main characters: Aleksandr Bezetov, a world champion chess player turned political activist, and Irina Ellison, a 30-year-old English lecturer with Huntington's disease and a passive interest in chess. I know, I know: sounds fairly dreary, but it's not! More, poignant and sagacious, with artful yet casual wordsmithery and humor tinged with sadness.

The novel begins with a description of Aleksandr's move to St. Petersburg (then Leningrad) back in 1978 to hone his chess skills, and admittedly, it takes a chapter or so to get pulled into the story, though we get a glimpse of the main theme - and Aleksandr's latent political leanings - right away:
He didn't care for the billboards and didn't believe in the slogans, but nobody else did, either. He regarded Communism as a kind of collective benign lie, like the universal agreement among human beings to rarely discuss the fact that everybody would one day die.Here we have the basic themes - Russia's stifled political landscape, the harsher realities of life we pretend to ignore in polite company. And once we meet Irina, with her fatalistic "practicality" dripping with sarcasm and her oh-cut-out-your-whining Harvard Square chess opponent Lars, the story picks right up. Irina admits her faults openly:
I liked the bitter cold the best; it narrowed the meandering, self-indulgent courses of my mind into a focused dissatisfaction with what was right in front of me. This, I'll be the first to admit, was an improvement. Irina's chapters are told in the first person; she is the messier, more relatable character in the book. We get Aleksandr's story in the third person, and he remains somewhat cold, calculating and distant (which makes sense, since he's surrounded and defined by chess, cold Russian winters, and political conspiracies), though eventually shows more humanity by the end of the novel. They are both dealing with their own fallibility, meeting after Irina determines that her father's letter to the chess player, asking him how to fail with dignity, has not been adequately addressed or answered.

I'm not doing this book justice, but suffice it to say, you should read it, unless dealing with issues of mortality and consequence makes you squeamish. I can't wait to see what DuBois comes up with next - it's hard to believe this is her first novel. Also: it's out in paperback next Tuesday, if that puts you over the edge!

*I read this book courtesy of NetGalley - and my local public library, after my digital ARC expired! ( )
  zeteticat | Apr 2, 2013 |
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Abandoning her life when her father succumbs to Huntington's disease, Massachusetts native Irina discovers an unanswered letter from her father to an internationally renowned chess champion and political dissident, whom she decides to visit in Russia.… (more)

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