Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Review: Partial History of Lost Causes

Review for Eastern Europe challenge:

A Partial History of Lost Causes by Jennifer DuBois: This tightly packed first novel brings together two completely disparate people with a single problem in common: They're butting their heads against their fate. First we have a chess prodigy in the Soviet Union; he travels to Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) from his home in the far eastern USSR. There he finds the chess beneath him, but not politics: He falls in with a group of dissidents and delivers their carbon-copied newsletter, titled in part A Partial History of Lost Causes. Meanwhile, a girl grows up in Cambridge, Mass., where her father teaches her chess; he succumbs to a long decline at the hands of Huntington's disease, and the daughter, while in college, discovers she carries the disease herself. Later in life they meet, and they find themselves sharing a lost cause in Putin's Russia. The specter of death and defeat hangs over this novel, and unfortunately the resulting atmosphere is more leaden than tragic. DuBois alternates between a first-person narrative of the daughter with a third-person narrator for the chess prodigy; as a result, the reader feels more distant from the more interesting character. But DuBois vividly portrays St. Petersburg  in all seasons, and toward the end of the novel she manages to build some suspense.

1 comment:

Rose City Reader said...

Thanks for including your review in the European Reading Challenge. It sounds like the setting was one of the best parts of the book, so it was an appropriate choice.

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