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A Partial History of Lost Causes by Jennifer duBois
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Mar 29, 2012

it was amazing
Read in March, 2012

A New Search for Meaning: Jennifer DuBois’ A Partial History of Lost Causes

In Jennifer DuBois’ debut novel, A Partial History of Lost Causes, the lives of two characters are intertwined by their search for meaning. It is a beautifully told story that will appeal to fans of Julie Orringer’s The Invisible Bridge or Katherine Neville’s The Eight.

In present-day Cambridge, Massachusetts, Irina Ellison is a thirty-year-old lecturer mourning the loss of her beloved father to Huntington’s disease. A great lover of chess, her father was particularly fascinated with the internationally renowned Russian chess champion, Aleksandr Bezetov. So much so, that his final act is to compose a letter to Bezetov asking, “How does one proceed against a lost cause?” Upon finding that she has also inherited her father’s grueling disease, Irina makes a life-changing decision: to walk away from everything she has ever known, travel to St. Petersburg, Russia, to find Aleksandr Bezetov — and an answer to her father’s question.

In Cold War-era Russia, young Bezetov, setting foot into the square of St. Petersburg for the first time, meets a group of boys tired of the lives they are forced to live and rumbling for change. A prodigy from the country, he arrives to play chess and quickly becomes known as a fierce and unbeatable competitor. However, calls for rebellion are too intoxicating to ignore, and he quickly finds himself rising in the ranks and leading an uprising that will change history forever.

In present-day Russia, the once-great chess champion Bezetov awakens one day in his lavish surroundings to find the fires of change behind him, and with them, any purpose for living. As he struggles to understand his worth and place in the universe, he is confronted at his doorstep by a young, lost Irina. With this encounter, both characters find they need something that exists in each other to remember what keeps them going every day.

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