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#414 ~ A Partial History of Lost Causes

A Partial History of Lost Causes by Jennifer duBois

Published by: The Dial Press

Published on: March 20, 2012

Page Count: 384

Genre: Literary Fiction

My Reading Format: ARC sent to me by the publisher in order to participate in the TLC Book Tour

Available Formats: Hardcover, eBook, and Audiobook

Giveaway: As part of this tour, I get to give away a copy of A Partial History of Lost Causes. One super lucky duck living in either the US or Canada who comments on this post by 3/31 will have a chance to win. Good luck!


tlc-logo-resizedToday it is my great pleasure to be Jennifer duBois’ host on her TLC Book Tour.  This tour is to celebrate her new novel, A Partial History of Lost  Cause.

I have a lot of fun working as a tour host for TLC Book Tours.  They always have great books and authors on tour.  Check out their website for more information on this tour and the others that they are hosting.


My Review

Doctors prefer not to test young people for adult onset terminal illnesses, but after her father was diagnosed with Huntington’s Disease, Irina demanded the testing. She promised everyone that she wanted only to be prepared and that her faith in God was strong. She was only giving the medical establishment lip service. Huntington’s Disease, when passed down by the father, has a much earlier onset and given her results, she could easily expect onset to begin in her early 30s. Irina is devastated. In many ways, her college and post-college years are lived out in such a way as to provide an example of why those tests aren’t routinely performed on young people. Irina pushes away those who are close to her and avoids creating any new relationships. As she nears 30, her best friend is a Swedish man with whom she plays a weekly gave of chess in Harvard Square. When her father finally dies, she finds a letter he wrote to Aleksandr Bezetov, the current world chess champion asking him how he proceeded in the face of certain defeat. This unanswered letter prompts Irina into action. She is determined to use whatever time she has remaining to track down this man, now a political dissident running for president against Vladimir Putin’s hand-picked candidate, and find the answer to her father’s question.

A Partial History of Lost Causes is a beautifully written in alternating chapters from both Aleksandr and Irina’s point of view. This approach worked so well for this novel because our knowledge of and interest in Aleksandr builds along with Irina’s. We first encounter Aleksandr in 1979 as he arrives at a chess academy in Leningrad. It is there that he becomes noticed by the Kremlin and not just for his ability to play chess. It is there that he gets involved with an underground political movement. Despite the age difference and their vastly different lives, they are both people who live too much in their heads. They cling to their intellectual existence. It is their security blanket and they cannot fully relate to those who seek shelter elsewhere. Although they both have reason to that death is imminent, that really isn’t what is holding them back. Truly, they are both afraid of living.

When you read a book written by a first time author, it can feel like you are taking a leap of faith. You never know what you are getting and, because many of your trusted sources have not read the author either, the safety net provided by the opinion of others just isn’t there. Jennifer duBois is an example of what makes taking that risk both exhilarating and refreshing. The story is sharp and her writing is gorgeous. There were sections I purposefully reread because I wanted to roll the words around my head again so that I remembered how they felt. This was especially true in those sections when Irina and Aleksandr were at their most reflective. I double underlined this passage where Irina is comparing her life to her colleagues:

I could have had any or all—or most—of those things, I suppose, but my major character flaw is an inability to invest in lost causes. When you are the lost cause, this makes for a lonely life.

As a person who came of age the year that the Berlin Wall fell, I became invested in the book from the very first chapter. The story and the duBois’ writing kept me focused and wanting more. Irina and Aleksandr laid bare their souls without shame and discovered the truths for which they were searching. A Partial History of Lost Causes was one of the most beautiful novels I have read in quite some time. I can only imagine the places Jennifer duBois will go in her career, but I’m calling shotgun. I don’t want to miss a single word.


Jennifer duBois’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Monday, March 12th:  Book Snob

Wednesday, March 14th:  Bibliosue

Monday, March 19th:  Unabridged Chick

Tuesday, March 20th:  Broken Teepee

Monday, March 26th:  Luxury Reading

Wednesday, March 28th:  Book Club Classics

Thursday, March 29th:  BookNAround

Monday, April 2nd:  Wandering Thoughts of a Scientific Housewife

Wednesday, April 4th:  Wordsmithonia

Thursday, April 5th:  She Treads Softly

Monday, April 9th: Coffee and a Book Chick

Wednesday, April 11th:  Jenny Loves to Read

15 Comments

  • At 2012.03.21 05:11, sagustocox said:

    This book appeals to me as I’ve studied Huntington’s Disease before…thanks for the review of a book that appears to be well written. Thanks for the giveaway

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    • At 2012.03.21 08:52, Suzanne said:

      I agree with you about Jennifer Dubois being an author to watch. This did not seem like a first novel.

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      • At 2012.03.21 09:29, Julie @ Read Handed said:

        I also loved this book – amazing that it was written by such a young author! If you’re interested, my take is here.

        • At 2012.03.21 10:16, Karen White said:

          What an intriguing set of circumstances to explore in a book. And your rave has sold me!

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          • At 2012.03.21 11:57, Ti said:

            Sounds like your experience with this first time author was a good one! I love when that happens!
            I also love it when an author showcases an illness that the public may not be aware of. Any press that a disease can get usually helps when it comes to raising funds for research, etc.

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            • At 2012.03.21 14:47, bermudaonion (Kathy) said:

              Wowee!! You’ve made this sound like a must read!

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              • At 2012.03.22 21:42, Lisa said:

                One of the most beautifully written novels you’ve read and she’s so young? Wow! What a unique story line as well. This one caught my interest early and you definitely just sold it!

                • [...] March 19th:  Unabridged ChickTuesday, March 20th:  Broken TeepeeWednesday, March 21st:  The Literate Housewife ReviewMonday, March 26th:  Luxury ReadingWednesday, March 28th:  Book Club ClassicsThursday, March 29th: [...]

                  • At 2012.03.24 20:50, Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours said:

                    Sounds like this author is one to follow!

                    Thanks for being on the tour.

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                    • At 2012.04.01 17:20, March 2012 in Review said:

                      [...] Sense of an Ending (audio) The Sisters Brothers The Invisible Ones (audio) The Snowman (audio) A Partial History of Lost Causes An Arsonist’s Guide to Writer’s Homes in New England Skeletons at the Feast (audio) A [...]

                      • At 2012.04.10 23:54, Kathe Mazur said:

                        I love this book. I recorded the audiobook and couldn’t believe it was a first novel. The writing is deep and funny and wonderful, I thought.

                        • [...] reviews of A Partial History of Lost Causes: Bookreporter, TimeOut – NewYork, Literate Housewife, Coffee and a Book Chick, BooknAround, Jenny Loves to [...]

                          • At 2012.12.31 09:04, Best Reads of 2012 said:

                            [...] Audio/Little, Brown and Company) The Starboard Sea by Amber Dermont (St. Martin’s Press) A Partial History of Lost Causes by Jennifer duBois (The Dial Press) The Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye (Amy Einhorn Books) I [...]

                            • At 2013.02.21 11:14, papercuts1 said:

                              I just finished this audiobook which came to my attention because of your beautiful review. My best friend’s father died of Huntington’s Disease only recently, and my (undiagnosed) friend is facing the same challenge as Irina is in the book. Needless to say, I was intrigued by ‘A Partial History of Lost Causes’ and if it would provide any answers to the big questions that Huntington’s patients desperately ask themselves.

                              In the end, the book didn’t provide me with any real answers other than that there ARE no certain answers. There’s only life and dealing with it, no matter when or how it’s going to end. A somewhat sobering realization, but a very authentic one.

                              I wasn’t quite happy with the mix of history, politics, chess and fatal illness. The threads didn’t connect as much as I wanted them to. But I agree that duBois is a strong new literary voice, and her beautiful writing left me breathless at times. A wonderful talent, no doubt there!

                              So, thank you for pointing me to this unusual book that I certainly would’ve overlooked otherwise.

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                              • At 2013.09.24 04:00, Cartwheel by Jennifer duBois said:

                                […] featured a character similar to Knox in circumstance, however, I was intrigued. After reading of A Partial History of Lost Causes, I knew that Jennifer duBois could tell a great story. I was so curious to see what she did with […]

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