cover image A Partial History of Lost Causes

A Partial History of Lost Causes

Jennifer Dubois. Dial, $26 (384p) ISBN 978-1-4000-6977-4

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)