Tag Russia



A Partial History of Lost Causes

I think that I could probably subsist on a reading diet of first novels. Finding a new writer whose work I love reassures me that the end of storytelling is nowhere near. I felt this way recently when I encountered Jennifer DuBois’s Partial History of Lost Causes on the shelves of my local book store. Two people find their lives intersecting: a former chess prodigy who decides to challenge Vladimir Putin for the Russian presidency and an American woman in her 20s who knows her life is going to be cut short by Huntington’s disease. We are first introduced to Aleksandr Bezetov in 1979, when he arrives in what was then Leningrad to attend a chess academy. We meet Irina Ellison in 2006, shortly after her father’s difficult death from the genetic disease that will likely kill her, too. When she discovers in her father’s papers an old (and apparently unanswered) letter from her father to Bezetov asking him how he copes with those games he knows he’s going to lose, she decides on the spur of the moment to go to Russia and see if she can confront Bezetov and have him answer her father’s question. I can’t remember reading another novel—at least not recently—that’s both incredibly intelligent and also emotionally engaging. I really cared about Irina and Bezetov: their attempts to outrun (or at least accept) their individual fates was both moving and tragically real.