About the Book
In Jennifer duBois's mesmerizing and exquisitely rendered debut novel, a long-lost letter links two characters, each searching for meaning against long odds.
Praise for A Partial History of Lost Causes:
"…Precise and unsentimental…Spinning an ambitious plot, unpredictable but never improbable, [duBois] moves with a magician’s control between points of view, continents, histories, and sympathies."
"[A] terrific debut."
"By what exquisite strategy did duBois settle on this championship permutation of literary moves? Her debut is a chess mystery with political, historical, philosophical and emotional heft, a paean to the game and the humans who play it. DuBois probes questions of identity, death, art and love with a piercing intelligence and a questing heart."
"...Gorgeous...DuBois writes with haunting richness and fierce intelligence. She has an equal grasp of politics and history, the emotional nuances of her complex characters, and the intricacies of chess...A Partial History of Lost Causes is a thrilling debut by a young writer who evidently shares the uncanny brilliance of her protagonists."
“Finding a new writer whose work I love reassures me that the end of storytelling is nowhere near…I can’t remember reading another novel—at least not recently—that’s both incredibly intelligent and emotionally engaging.”
“Tender but sharp-edged…Irina’s voice possesses a grim humor and quiet determination that is nothing short of charismatic.”
"Astonishingly beautiful and brainy... Strikingly original... Stunning."
"A Partial History of Lost Causes seems to assert that everything we strive for in life is likely to be, ultimately, a lost cause. But then why is the book so beautiful, so hopeful, so full of life? The beauty, hope, and vitality are all conveyed in the telling of this gorgeous story, rather than in the outcome. Such an important book coming from such a young writer should give us all hope in the glorious lost cause of American fiction."
"Whoever it was that coined the phrase ‘the political is personal’ would have enjoyed Jennifer duBois’ debut novel, A Partial History of Lost Causes. It is both personal and political, as well as hilarious and heartbreaking, winsome and wise…It is the story of last ditch efforts and Hail Mary passes; it is the story of how we struggle to survive and hold on to hope. It is a brilliant and beautiful piece of fiction."
"A Partial History of Lost Causes is probably the best fiction work I have read all year... DuBois has the ability to describe everyday thoughts and emotions in a way that left me breathless. I needed to reread sentences again and again because I was so taken with her prose…I look forward to reading more of her work."
"This novel reads like a classic. DuBois has a natural storyteller's ability. Moving back and forth between the lives of Irina and Aleksandr, she weaves a tight novel rich with complex characters and story lines you watch merge with a satisfying sense of inevitability."
Reading Group Questions
1) Are Irina’s actions ultimately courageous or cowardly? Do you see her ending as happy?
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?
Jennifer duBois is available for call ins and group discussions. Please contact her in advance to arrange an appointment.