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Original Essays | September 17, 2014

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My first novel, Love Me Back, was published on September 16. Writing the book took seven years, and along the way three chapters were published in... Continue »
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2 Burnside Literature- A to Z

A Partial History of Lost Causes

by

A Partial History of Lost Causes Cover

 

 

Reading Group Guide

1. Are Irina’s actions ultimately courageous or cowardly? Do you see her ending as happy?

 

2. In some ways, Irina’s and Aleksandr’s situations are similar—and in many ways, they are very different. What do you think brings Aleksandr and Irina together as friends? What do you think they learn from each other?

 

3. The character of Misha challenges Aleksandr’s vision of Russia’s democratic future. Is there any merit to his argument about the pragmatism of slower change? How do recent events in the Arab world speak to this argument?

 

4. Irina treasures her intellect, and fears that she will not be herself anymore once she begins to lose it. What do you think makes you “you”? Do you feel there’s some essential quality that makes you who you are—and that, if you lost it, you wouldn’t be the same person?

 

5. Why are Aleksandr’s sections written in third person, while Irina’s sections are written in first? How does this decision inform your reaction to the book? Did you find you connected more with either Irina or Aleksandr?

 

6. What do you think would have become of Ivan if he’d lived?  

 

7. Irina can often be sardonic and fatalistic. Are there any examples of her behaving in ways that subvert this cynical pose?

 

8. Beyond Aleksandr’s political career and Irina’s disease, do you see other lost causes in the book? Have you been faced with a lost cause in your own life, and how did you react to it?

 

9. How does chess work as a metaphor in the book? Is the structure of the game itself mirrored in the structure of the book?

 

10. Do you think that Aleksandr’s chess brilliance ultimately made him a better or worse person?

 

11. What role does Irina play in the reunion between Elizabeta and Aleksandr? Do you that they might have reconnected if Irina had never come to Russia?

 

12. After Misha’s letter to the editor is published, Boris decides to abandon Aleksandr’s campaign, while Viktor decides to go with Irina to Perm. If you were Boris or Viktor, what decision do you think you would have made

Product Details

ISBN:
9781400069774
Subtitle:
A Novel
Author:
duBois, Jennifer
Author:
Dubois, Jennifer
Publisher:
The Dial Press
Subject:
Literary
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Publication Date:
20120320
Binding:
Hardback
Language:
English
Pages:
384
Dimensions:
9.53 x 6.57 x 1.2 in 1.48 lb

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Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
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A Partial History of Lost Causes Used Hardcover
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Product details 384 pages Dial Press - English 9781400069774 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

I love books where the protagonists' stories are told in alternating chapters. That's one reason I'm enjoying Jennifer duBois's intelligent first novel, A Partial History of Lost Causes; it's also richly layered and poignant.

"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "In Dubois's terrific debut, Aleksandr Bezetov arrives in Leningrad to study chess on the day of Stalin's centenary celebration in 1979 and meets two men who publish a dissident journal called A Partial History of Lost Causes. In Cambridge, Mass. in 2006, 30-year-old university lecturer Irina Ellison lives with a diagnosis of Huntington's disease, a hereditary degenerative illness that often leads to early death. After her Russophile father dies, Irina finds an unanswered letter he wrote after learning of his illness to Aleksandr asking how the chess champion is ever able to continue a game he knows he won't win. On impulse, Irena leaves her lover and her Cambridge life and goes to Russia to track down the retired chess champion and have him answer the question in person, only to find out that Aleksandr has taken up the biggest lost cause of all: running against Vladimir Putin for president of Russia. Moving between Aleksandr's past and Irina's present journey of self-discovery, the two stories eventually come together as Irina joins Aleksandr's quixotic political campaign and becomes swept up in his dangerous attempt to expose Putin. In time, these unlikeliest of allies form a touching bond based on Irina's diagnosis and the constant threats against Aleksandr's life. 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. (March)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Review" by , "[An] astonishingly beautiful and brainy debut...[a] stunning novel."
"Review" by , "In Jennifer duBois's gorgeous novel, A Partial History of Lost Causes, the personal, theoretical, and political are braided together into a seamless whole....Moving yet startlingly funny — full of bravado, insight, and clarity. A Partial History of Lost Causes is a thrilling debut by a young writer who evidently shares the uncanny brilliance of her protagonists."
"Synopsis" by , FINALIST FOR THE PEN/HEMINGWAY PRIZE FOR DEBUT FICTION

 

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. With uncommon perception and wit, duBois explores the power of memory, the depths of human courage, and the endurance of love.

 

NAMED BY THE NATIONAL BOOK FOUNDATION AS A 5 UNDER 35 AUTHOR • WINNER OF THE CALIFORNIA BOOK AWARD GOLD MEDAL FOR FIRST FICTION • WINNER OF THE NORTHERN CALIFORNIA BOOK AWARD FOR FICTION • NAMED ONE OF THE TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY O: THE OPRAH MAGAZINE

 

“Astonishingly beautiful and brainy . . . [a] stunning novel.”—O: The Oprah Magazine

 

“I can’t remember reading another novel—at least not recently—that’s both incredibly intelligent and also emotionally engaging.”—Nancy Pearl, NPR

 

In St. Petersburg, Russia, world chess champion Aleksandr Bezetov begins a quixotic quest: He launches 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.

 

In Cambridge, Massachusetts, thirty-year-old English lecturer Irina Ellison struggles for a sense of purpose. Irina is certain she has inherited Huntington’s disease—the same cruel illness that ended her father’s life. When Irina finds an old, photocopied letter her father wrote to the young Aleksandr Bezetov, she makes a fateful decision. Her father asked the chess prodigy a profound question—How does one proceed in 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.

 

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY

Salon • BookPage

 

Praise for A Partial History of Lost Causes

 

“A thrilling debut . . . [Jennifer] DuBois writes with haunting richness and fierce intelligence. . . . Full of bravado, insight, and clarity.”—Elle

 

“DuBois is precise and unsentimental. . . . She moves with a magician’s control between points of view, continents, histories, and sympathies.”—The New Yorker

 

“A real page-turner . . . a psychological thriller of great nuance and complexity.”—The Dallas Morning News

 

“Terrific . . . In urgent fashion, duBois deftly evokes Russia’s political and social metamorphosis over the past thirty years through the prism of this particular and moving relationship.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

 

“Hilarious and heartbreaking and a triumph of the imagination.”—Gary Shteyngart

"Synopsis" by , “[An] astonishingly beautiful and brainy debut . . . [a] stunning novel.”—O: The Oprah Magazine

“In Jennifer duBois’ gorgeous novel, A Partial History of Lost Causes, the personal, theoretical, and political are braided together into a seamless whole. . . . Moving yet startlingly funny—full of bravado, insight, and clarity. A Partial History of Lost Causes is a thrilling debut by a young writer who evidently shares the uncanny brilliance of her protagonists.”—Elle

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.

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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