A Partial History of Lost Causes by Jennifer Dubois
Published: 2012 by The Dial Press
Source: Received ARC from publisher for review
How do you continue on when you know the outcome will not be in your favor? That is the question Irina seeks to answer on behalf of her late father who asked this question in an unanswered letter to world chess champion Aleksandr Bezetov. Irina has recently been diagnosed with the same debilitating illness that eventually killed her father and she leaves her life in Boston to seek out Mr. Bezetov in Russia and get the response that her father never received.
Mr. Bezetov is no longer a chess master, but rather an aspiring politician, running for the office of Russian president against Vladimir Putin; even though he admits up front that he does not expect to win.
The novel is told from each point of view, and in Aleksandr’s case beginning with his emergence as a chess prodigy and aspiring dissident in the Soviet Union of the 1970s. Each of these characters are emblematic of the lost causes of the book’s title, yet they have different outlooks: Irina knows she is going to die and does not want to be attached nor to have anyone become attached to her; whereas Aleksandr knows he is going to lose and yet takes great personal risks to advocate his cause and put his anti-Putin message out there.
When Irina and Aleksandr finally cross paths (it’s not a spoiler), Irina asks him her father’s question. As he never received the letter when it was first sent (it was answered initially by a woman in Aleksandr’s rooming house on his behalf; a woman Aleksandr never stopped loving), his answer to her is: “When you know you’re losing, I am told it is sensible to resign.”
Is that what we are supposed to do when faced with adversity? Is that what Irina and Aleksandr do with their respective “lost causes”? My instinctive answer is no on both fronts, but as I don’t want to spoil the story for future readers I will not explain why I think so. This question alone, though, makes this book an ideal one for book group discussions.
Although the parts set in Aleksandr’s past were a bit slow for me (perhaps due to the bleak setting?) and I couldn’t understand most of the chess discussions, I did enjoy it. Although set within a relatively short period of time (30 years or so) it did have an epic feel to me.
The publisher has graciously offered one copy of A Partial History of Lost Causes as a giveaway (sorry, US and Canada only). If you are interested, please let me know in the comments below and on Sunday, March 19, I will randomly select a winner.
Please visit the other stops on the TLC Blog Tour for this novel:
Monday, March 12th: Book Snob
Monday, March 19th: Unabridged Chick
Tuesday, March 20th: Broken Teepee
Wednesday, March 21st: The Literate Housewife Review
Monday, March 26th: Luxury Reading
Wednesday, March 28th: Book Club Classics
Thursday, March 29th: BookNAround
Monday, April 2nd: Wandering Thoughts of a Scientific Housewife
Wednesday, April 4th: Wordsmithonia
Thursday, April 5th: She Treads Softly
Monday, April 9th: Coffee and a Book Chick
Wednesday, April 11th: Jenny Loves to Read