A Partial History of Lost Causes: A Novel

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9781400069774: A Partial History of Lost Causes: A Novel

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

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Review:

Author One-on-One: Jennifer duBois and Justin Torres

Justin Torres is the author of the novel, We the Animals. His fiction has been published in The New Yorker, Harper's, Granta, Tin House, and other publications.

Justin Torres: I knew very little about chess going in, but found it to be one of the most fascinating elements of the novel. Can you talk a little bit about the role of chess--not just in terms of plot but as an overarching conceit?

Jennifer duBois: I'd always been interested in chess, and I thought it served as an apt metaphor for both the political and the philosophical concerns of the book--Irina and Aleksandr are both, and with varying degrees of possible success, trying to outmaneuver pretty formidable opponents. On a structural level, the alternating chapters have something of the feel of a chess game--Irina moves, Aleksandr moves. And, without giving too much away, I think the ending has a certain chess logic to it.

Justin Torres: You use time brilliantly and quite differently for Irina and Aleksandr: Aleksandr's story takes place over thirty years, whereas Irina's story covers only two. How did you arrive at this structure?

Jennifer duBois: Because Irina knows she has this diagnosis in front of her, I wanted her to move through time more slowly; her attention to the world around her actually heightens as the book nears its end. Her journey, at least initially, is a bit subtler than Aleksandr's--she's grappling with mortality, with trying to find meaning and beauty in a finite time span. And as Aleksandr begins to confront those same challenges, time starts to move more slowly for him, too, until the two characters are moving through the novel together side by side.

Justin Torres: I loved the unconventional friendship Irina and Aleksandr forge. Their situations share some deep underlying parallels. How do you see Irina and Aleksandr's relationship working for each of them?

Jennifer duBois: There's the obvious parallel that they both fear for their lives, which unites them. But because their circumstances are different, they have different things to teach and learn from each other. Irina admires Aleksandr's energy and willingness to work for something outside of himself, because she's spent so much time sort of waiting out her life. Meeting Aleksandr forces Irina to realize that some people put their own lives at risk on purpose, because there are things worth doing that for. And Aleksandr admires Irina's fearlessness. He takes so many precautions that he winds up feeling trapped, and he sees that Irina's situation has been in some ways liberating for her--that it's driven her toward a more interesting and daring life. And in the end, it's the strange freedom of Irina's situation that allows her to be useful..

About the Author:

Jennifer duBois is a recent graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and is currently completing a Wallace Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University. Originally from western Massachusetts, she lives in Northern California.

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