Saturday, 10 March 2012

A Partial History of Lost Causes by Jennifer Dubois - Book Review

Title: A Partial History of Lost Causes
Author: Jennifer Dubois
Publisher: Random House
Publication Date: 20th March 2012
Pages: 339
Format: E-Book EPUB
Genre: Literary Fiction
Source: ARC from NetGalley

In Jennifer duBois’s mesmerizing and exquisitely rendered debut novel, a long-lost letter links two disparate characters, each searching for meaning against seemingly insurmountable odds.

In St. Petersburg, Russia, world chess champion Aleksandr Bezetov begins a quixotic quest. With his renowned Cold War–era tournaments behind him, Aleksandr has turned to politics, launching a dissident presidential campaign against Vladimir Putin. He knows he will not win—and that he is risking his life in the process—but a deeper conviction propels him forward. And in the same way that he cannot abandon his aims, he cannot erase the memory of a mysterious woman he loved in his youth.

In Cambridge, Massachusetts, thirty-year-old English lecturer Irina Ellison is on an improbable quest of her own. Certain she has inherited Huntington’s disease—the same cruel illness that ended her father’s life—she struggles with a sense of purpose. When Irina finds an old, photocopied letter her father had written to the young Aleksandr Bezetov, she makes a fateful decision. Her father had asked the Soviet chess prodigy a profound question—How does one proceed against a lost cause?—but never received an adequate reply. Leaving everything behind, Irina travels to Russia to find Bezetov and get an answer for her father, and for herself.

Spanning two continents and the dramatic sweep of history, A Partial History of Lost Causes reveals the stubbornness and splendor of the human will even in the most trying times. With uncommon perception and wit, Jennifer duBois explores the power of memory, the depths of human courage, and the endurance of love.
(Goodreads Synopsis)

This is a book that creeps up on you and works its way into your head and your heart. When I first started reading Alexandr's story, I wasn't quite sure if I was going to enjoy the book. But then Irina's narrative began and I was drawn to her section of the story straight away. It was only then that Alexandr's tale also began to come alive for me.

This is a beautifully woven story that mixes fiction with an element from fact. The prose is very readable and I loved the way the stories of the two characters slowly became entwined. The whole thing was so believable that I began to wonder if it was fiction at all and that is the sign of a master storyteller. I particularly loved the use of chess as a metaphor for the political situation the characters find themselves in - and indeed for Irina's own battles.

This is a book that will stick with you and keep you thinking long after you turn the final page and I can highly recommend it to literary fiction fans and those interested in modern politics in Russia.

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