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A Partial History of Lost Causes Synopsis
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. (Amazon)
When I finished reading A Partial History of Lost Causes, the debut novel from Jennifer duBois I was in awe of it. Weeks later, that feeling has only intensified.
It has been described as ‘astonishingly beautiful and brainy’ and ‘hilarious and heartbreaking, a triumph of the imagination’ – it is all these things and more. What I was immediately struck by was the originality and confidence of Jennifer duBois prose.
When Aleksander finally arrived in Leningrad, he was stunned by the great gray span of the Neva. The river was a churning organ in the city’s center – not its heart, surely, something more practical and less sentimental but just as necessary. The amygdala, maybe, or both kidneys.
Next, the depth and profundity of the observations made by an author so young.
Some people die with gentleness intact, and there is room to believe that they are still in there somewhere, if you’re the kind of person who likes to believe these thing. With my father, it was not like that. He was a mind, first and foremost, and a mind is an elaborate system of pulleys and levers and delicate balances. And when one piece is missing, the whole system has lost its integrity.
Jennifer duBois has crafted characters that are achingly real – flawed and insecure just as any of us is in the private worlds we give few access to. DuBois clearly understands the human psyche better than most.
This debut novel of Jennifer duBois, A Partial History of Lost Causes is an outstanding literary achievement – heartbreakingly sad and startlingly beautiful.
I found myself continually highlighting passages on my Kindle, and re-reading them. Far too many passages of note to quote in a single review.
I could have had any or all – or most – of those things, I suppose, but my major character flaw is an inability to invest in lost causes. When you are the lost case, this makes for a lonely life.
A Partial History of Lost Causes is a story written on many levels – at one a political thriller, at another two very different journeys of self discovery, and then another that could almost be described as a study of human belief systems.
Jennifer DuBois does not shy away from difficult and confronting subject matter, guiding her characters in the pursuit of their own truths, finding humour and beauty in the most unconventional circumstances. But the subject matter and or characters may not be to everyone’s tastes.
A Partial History of Lost Causes by Jennifer duBois is an absolute must read for those who enjoy literature – a title with a powerful and timeless message that I predict will be considered a classic in years to come.
Personality is continuity. Personality is the myth of continuity. And the person is lost when nothing can be old to him, when nothing can be familiar, when all parallels, all symbols, all analogs, are gone; when the world is perpetually stunning; when we are are newborns again, at last.
BOOK RATING: The Story 5 / 5 ; The Writing 5 / 5
Get your copy of A Partial History of Lost Causes from:
Genre: Literature, Drama, Action-Adventure, Mystery, Thriller
* We since also reviewed duBois’ second novel Cartwheel.
About the Author, Jennifer duBois
Jennifer duBois was born in Northampton, Massachusetts in 1983. She earned a B.A. in political science and philosophy from Tufts University and an M.F.A. in fiction from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She recently completed a Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University, where she is currently the Nancy Packer Lecturer in Continuing Studies.
- See the official website of Jennifer duBois
- An interesting article in which Jennifer duBois talks about what she would do if she found herself in the position of her characters.
- Read my additional teaser from the novel