Pub Writes

About the publishing Industry, editorials, and reviews

A Partial History of Lost Causes by Jennifer Dubois

Posted by Caitie F on March 10, 2012

Title: A Partial History of Lost Causes
Author: Jennifer Dubois
Hardcover: 384 pages
Publication date:  March 20, 2012
Publisher:  Random House
Rating: +++

Summary from goodreads:

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.


It is always hard to talk about a book that was just okay. To be honest, if the writing had not been as spectacular as it was (and it was absolutely spectacular) the book probably would have gotten only a rating of two.

I never really cared about any characters in this book. I loved that they were so well-defined, but  was never drawn to them. It didn’t help that Aleksandr’s early life was not very interesting. Once he started being political, he was suddenly more interesting because it felt like he actually believed in something, where before, he just felt bored. It was also hard to get interested in Cold War Russia. There were points that the horrors the government was behind were horrific, but most of the time it just wasn’t engaging.

Irina was a much more engaging character. How would you react if you knew you were going to start to die in the next few years? She is faced with that and getting into her head was very moving and thought-provoking. Yet she just got repetitive. I would feel sorry for her and her struggle, then say “Ok, get on with it, you said that ten times before”.

It was also jarring going between first and third person every chapter. I had to get used to it every time the chapter changed and it pulled me away from the book.

I am not saying it is a bad book at all. It just wasn’t the kind of book for me. If the summary makes it sound like something you would like, give it a try!


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