Heather's Reviews > A Partial History of Lost Causes

A Partial History of Lost Causes by Jennifer duBois
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Sep 02, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: first-reads, twenty-twelve, literary-fict, reviewed
Read from August 24 to 27, 2012 — I own a copy

I fell in love almost immediately. There is a lot of great writing to be found in this novel and a lot of interesting thoughts to quote a few:

"Outside, the cold was settling into itself-announcing its scope, the way pain does after a moment or two..."

"He regarded Communism as a kind of collective benign lie, like the universal agreement among human beings to rarely discuss the fact that everybody would one day die."

"There's an intimacy in listening to somebody's lies,...you learn more about someone from the things they wish were true than from the things that actually are."

And the best by far was:

"There was a smell in one corner near my hostel in Moscow that seemed to make the air opaque; your knees wilted, your spirit flagged, when confronted with it. It seemed concocted, preordained. It didn't seem like the kind of smell that could have emerged organically without supernatural intervention. If some people look at the complexity of the universe and see proof of God, I look at the dire complexity of that smell and see the suggestions of Satan."

Best quote on smell EVER.

The narrator Irina pulls you in and seems to ask you to really feel what shes feeling. I found myself continually underlining a great many passages to come back to later so I could think about them some more. I should say 'love at first read' is usually is a warning sign for me. If I love it right away it's usually because the author uses up all their energy in the beginning and starts to loose steam toward the middle. Which turned out to be the case with this novel.

Solid start but it started to loose me at the point where Irina and Aleksandr's stories converge. The two plots seemed to slam into one another and loose all their momentum. After Irina makes the choice to leave the states for Russia her reasoning seems to falter. It's like the author had a path for Irina to follow but her motivations start to feel makeshift as though the author wanted her to perform certain actions but hadn't fully formed her reasons for these actions. I like to be able to understand why a character makes the choices they do so this was particularly frustrating for me and Irina isn't the only culprit.

Alexander becomes involved with the distribution of a revolutionary journal as a young man as he says himself because he had nothing else to do. He doesn't seem that committed to it and he never mentions his personal beliefs or ideas that that may explain why he chose to help participate in the first place. He later looks on this time with nostalgia and like a lot of other moments in his life they are distorted by him or others to serve a purpose. The same problem occurs later when he runs against Putin for the presidency he has no real platform other than the hope that his running will pave the way for future change, but what future change?

A lot of problems I had with the story took the form of a list of rhetorical questions and didn't really feel necessary for the purpose of this review. Most of it is probably my desire to have characters behave consistently and to know why they chose certain paths over others. Sometimes I make the mistake of attributing it to the authors weakness but most of the time it's the characters weakness and it intentional so I'm going to skip it.

I'm not entirely familiar with the history of Russia but after reading this I feel as though I've gotten a glimpse of the spirit of a people who are proud despite their troubled past and traditional while looking forward to change and the future. There was so much about this book to like especially the writing, and it managed a strong ending even with what I felt to be a lag two-thirds of the way through. I am eager to see what subject this author chooses to tackle next.


*A copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher through First Reads.
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08/25/2012 page 161
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