A Partial History of Lost Causes: Book summary and reviews of A Partial History of Lost Causes by Jennifer duBois

A Partial History of Lost Causes

A Novel

By Jennifer duBois

A Partial History of Lost Causes
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  • Published in USA  Mar 2012,
    384 pages.

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Book Summary

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. Spanning two continents and the dramatic sweep of history, A Partial History of Lost Causes reveals the stubbornness and splendor of the human will even in the most trying times.

In St. Petersburg, Russia, world chess champion Aleksandr Bezetov begins a quixotic quest. With his renowned Cold War–era tournaments behind him, Aleksandr has turned to politics, launching 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. And in the same way that he cannot abandon his aims, he cannot erase the memory of a mysterious woman he loved in his youth.

In Cambridge, Massachusetts, thirty-year-old English lecturer Irina Ellison is on an improbable quest of her own. Certain she has inherited Huntington's disease - the same cruel illness that ended her father's life - she struggles with a sense of purpose. When Irina finds an old, photocopied letter her father had written to the young Aleksandr Bezetov, she makes a fateful decision. Her father had asked the Soviet chess prodigy a profound question - How does one proceed against 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.

Spanning two continents and the dramatic sweep of history, A Partial History of Lost Causes reveals the stubbornness and splendor of the human will even in the most trying times. With uncommon perception and wit, Jennifer duBois explores the power of memory, the depths of human courage, and the endurance of love.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. In urgent fashion, Dubois deftly evokes Russia's political and social metamorphosis over the past 30 years through the prism of this particular and moving relationship." - Publishers Weekly

"Dubois's impressive mastery of her Russian material makes one hopeful for a more credible story line next time around." - Kirkus Reviews

"Thrilling, thoughtful, strange, gorgeous, political, and deeply personal, Jennifer duBois's A Partial History of Lost Causes is a terrific debut novel. In prose both brainy and beautiful, she follows her characters as they struggle to save each other. This is a book to get lost in." - Elizabeth McCracken

"An amazing achievement - a braiding of historical, political, and personal, each strand illuminating the other. Wonderful characters, elusive glimpses of wisdom, and a gripping story that accelerates to just the right ending." - Arthur Phillips

"Hilarious and heartbreaking and a triumph of the imagination. Jennifer duBois is too young to be this talented. I wish I were her." - Gary Shteyngart

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Reader Reviews

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Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Elizabeth L. (Salem, Oregon)
Slow Going
Perhaps it was the short days and ensuing light deprivation (like Russia!), but I had a very hard time finishing this book. The main problem is that the two major characters do not meet until 200 pages in and even then they exist in parallel more than together. And they are both are very depressed. But I would say that - apart for some editing mistakes that will hopefully be corrected - the writing itself is very good.

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Rosemary K. (Saginaw, MI)
A Partial History: something IS missing
For the most part, I found A Partial History of Lost Causes to be quite interesting. I felt motivated about the primary characters.

However, there still remained a gap; I felt somewhat too isolated from these people and their lives. Something kept me from throwing myself, heart and soul, so to speak, into this book.

I kept thinking: ICY. Of course, being as much of the story occurred during Russian winters, this was a natural reaction. But often the characters seemed encased in walls of ice themselves.

I do look forward to the author's next effort: Jennifer DuBois definitely has a gift for writing. But I just hope to get bit closer to the hearts of her characters.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Lisa E. (Cincinnati, OH)
Lovely
Jennifer duBois looks about twenty-five-years-old in her picture, and that is good news--may she have a long life in which to write more wonderful novels. Her characters have insights into the human condition that brought me up short and made me consider my own life. Aside from that, the novel is lively and engaging.

Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Martha D. (Poway, CA)
A Partial History of Lost Causes
I like many other wanted to like this more than I did. If I were to grade it on a scale of how much I appreciated it I would probably give it a 4 out of 5. But it was a little much for me and the characters weren't as engaging as I usually like. That being said Jennifer DuBios has some writing chops and I will definitely check out what any other books from her.

Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by WDH (New Port Richey, FL)
Struggled
I struggled between a 3 or 4 rating, but finally chose a 3. This is a well written story with a lot of detail about politics, places, people and how circumstances impact life. However, it read a bit slow and the overall tone was rather melancholy which made it difficult for me to engage with any of the characters or care about what happened to them. I am normally a fast reader, but it took awhile to finish this book.

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Beverly K. (Lockport, IL)
A Partial History of Lost Causes
I’m a sucker for books that explore why we do the things we do and A Partial History of Lost Causes is a beautiful first novel that has two very different characters searching for love and meaning and the answer to their own “lost causes”. How Irina Ellison, an English lecturer from Cambridge, MA who believes she will develop Huntington’s disease and Aleksandr Bezetov, a Soviet chess champion turned political activist meet and interact is brought to life by Ms. DuBois with laughter and tears.

I learned quite a bit about Russia’s post-Communist era, not particularly something I thought I would enjoy, but I did. This isn't the type of book you idly pick up and skim through. You become engrossed and enchanted not only by the story, but also by the author's lyrical descriptions of Russia--harsh and beautiful.

...17 more reader reviews

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Author Information

Jennifer duBois Author Biography

Photo: Ilana Panich-Linsman

Jennifer duBois's A Partial History of Lost Causes was one of the most acclaimed debuts of 2012. It was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Fiction, winner of the California Book Award for First Fiction and the Northern California Book Award for Fiction, and O: The Oprah Magazine chose it as one of the ten best books of the year.

DuBois was also named one of the National Book Foundation's 5 Under 35 authors. A graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, duBois recently completed a Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University.

Her second novel is Cartwheel (Oct 2013). Originally from Massachusetts, she now lives in Texas.

Author Interview
Link to Jennifer duBois's Website

Name Pronunciation
Jennifer duBois: Doo-Bwah

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