Audra (Unabridged Chick)'s Reviews > A Partial History of Lost Causes

A Partial History of Lost Causes by Jennifer duBois
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's review
Mar 19, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: era-1980s, favorites, mood-bittersweet, mood-evocative, place-boston, place-russia, place-as-character
Read from March 17 to 19, 2012

Please forgive me while I have a brief spaz out.



I'm going to be struggling a bit to provide a useful review (sorry), partially because this plot is so layered and interesting, and partially because it was so great I'm really just shaking the book emphatically at the screen as if that would convey it's awesomeness.

Gary Shteyngart blurbs the book on the cover, saying among other things: "I wish I were her." To that I say: true story. I envy duBois' ability to take these seemingly different plot elements and themes -- chess, Russian politics, Huntington's Disease, terrorism, documentary film making, unrequited love -- and make them into one cohesive and coherent and captivating story.

First, I can't even summarize the plot well, so forgive me for doing it badly. Beginning in 1979, we follow Aleksandr Bezetov, a Russian chess champion, as he navigates the world of Communist and post-Communist Russia, and his eventual decision to embark on a seemingly doomed presidential campaign against Vladimir Putin. Having watched friends and enemies die and disappear, he's filled with a kind of pragmatic fatalism -- the same kind that fills American Irina Ellison. Thirty-ish, Irina has Huntington's, an incurable and debilitating disease that threatens to fully emerge any year, and on a whim, she decides to chase down the Russian chess champion that her father tried to correspond with decades ago. Once she finds Aleksandr, she becomes his copy editor, and joins his campaign, one that could be considered a lost cause.

The writing is great -- smart but readable, pretty but not overly descriptive -- and I just clicked with duBois' characters. The two leads aren't exactly heroes, nor are they anti-heroes; they're complicated and maddening people, compelling -- I followed them for 370ish pages without complaint and wanted, desperately, more. (It ended exactly where it needed to, though.) The last chapter killed me -- I'm kind of getting teary remembering! -- as it was so deliciously sad and bitter and sweet and pragmatic and hopeful. I reread it this morning on the train to linger with the feeling. Honestly, the whole book was like this -- moving without feeling trite, and coolly pessimistic without feeling unemotional -- and I clearly can't rave enough about it.

In the end, Jennifer duBois needs to be writing more novels, please. Immediately. And you need to read this one, stat.
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