A Partial History of Lost Causes: A Novel

By Jennifer DuBois
Binding:Paperback
Publisher:Dial Press Trade Paperback, (8/21/2012)
Language:English



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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. With uncommon perception and wit, duBois explores the power of memory, the depths of human courage, and the endurance of love.
 
“I can’t remember reading another novel—at least not recently—that’s both incredibly intelligent and also emotionally engaging.”—Nancy Pearl, NPR

In St. Petersburg, Russia, world chess champion Aleksandr Bezetov begins a quixotic quest: He launches 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.
 
In Cambridge, Massachusetts, thirty-year-old English lecturer Irina Ellison struggles for a sense of purpose. Irina is certain she has inherited Huntington’s disease—the same cruel illness that ended her father’s life. When Irina finds an old, photocopied letter her father wrote to the young Aleksandr Bezetov, she makes a fateful decision. Her father asked the chess prodigy a profound question—How does one proceed in 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.
 
“Gorgeous . . . a thrilling debut . . . [Jennifer] DuBois writes with haunting richness and fierce intelligence. She has an equal grasp of politics and history, [and] the emotional nuances of her complex characters. . . . DuBois’s evocations of Russia are lush, and her swashbuckling descriptions, whether of chess games, a doomed political campaign, or the anticipation of death, are moving yet startlingly funny—full of bravado, insight, and clarity.”—Elle
 
“Astonishingly beautiful and brainy . . . [a] stunning novel.”—O: The Oprah Magazine

“DuBois is precise and unsentimental. . . . She moves with a magician’s control between points of view, continents, histories, and sympathies.”—The New Yorker

 
“A real page-turner . . . a psychological thriller of great nuance and complexity.”—The Dallas Morning News
 
“Terrific . . . In urgent fashion, duBois deftly evokes Russia’s political and social metamorphosis over the past thirty years through the prism of this particular and moving relationship.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
 
“Hilarious and heartbreaking and a triumph of the imagination.”—Gary Shteyngart

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"A Partial History of Lost Causes: A Novel"
By Jennifer DuBois

Average Rating:

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The Gentleman
The Gentleman
By Forrest Leo

 
 
 General reading guide discussion questions to be used with ANY book your book club or reading group might be discussing.
 
 

1. Are Irina’s actions ultimately courageous or cowardly? Do you see her ending as happy? 



2. In some ways, Irina’s and Aleksandr’s situations are similar—and in many ways, they are very different. What do you think brings Aleksandr and Irina together as friends? What do you think they learn from each other? 



3. The character of Misha challenges Aleksandr’s vision of Russia’s democratic future. Is there any merit to his argument about the pragmatism of slower change? How do recent events in the Arab world speak to this argument?



4. Irina treasures her intellect, and fears that she will not be herself anymore once she begins to lose it. What do you think makes you “you”? Do you feel there’s some essential quality that makes you who you are—and that, if you lost it, you wouldn’t be the same person? 



5. Why are Aleksandr’s sections written in third person, while Irina’s sections are written in first? How does this decision inform your reaction to the book? Did you find you connected more with either Irina or Aleksandr? 



6. What do you think would have become of Ivan if he’d lived?  



7. Irina can often be sardonic and fatalistic. Are there any examples of her behaving in ways that subvert this cynical pose?



8. Beyond Aleksandr’s political career and Irina’s disease, do you see other lost causes in the book? Have you been faced with a lost cause in your own life, and how did you react to it?



9. How does chess work as a metaphor in the book? Is the structure of the game itself mirrored in the structure of the book? 



10. Do you think that Aleksandr’s chess brilliance ultimately made him a better or worse person? 



11. What role does Irina play in the reunion between Elizabeta and Aleksandr? Do you that they might have reconnected if Irina had never come to Russia?



12. After Misha’s letter to the editor is published, Boris decides to abandon Aleksandr’s campaign, while Viktor decides to go with Irina to Perm. If you were Boris or Viktor, what decision do you think you would have made?

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