A Partial History of Lost Causes by Jennifer DuBois
Dial • $26 • ISBN 9781400069774
on sale March 20, 2012

A blurb from Gary Shteyngart and back cover copy that started with the words "In St. Petersburg, Russia . . ." were enough to make me dive into this debut novel pretty much the moment the ARC hit my desk. A strong story and complex characters ensured I'd take it home with me so I could read the whole thing.

Irina is just 30 years old, but she's lived most of her life with the shadow of Huntington's Disease—the degenerative disorder that killed her brilliant father—hanging over her. While searching through her father's things, she comes across a letter her father once wrote to the Russian world chess champion Aleksandr Bezetov asking the same question: What do you do when you know you're playing a losing match?

Bezetov never answered, but Irina decides to spend the remaining year or so of her good health trying to get a response from him herself. There she finds that he is facing his own lost cause: running for president against Vladimir Putin.

One of the remarkable things about this debut is the way DuBois—who is still in her twenties—is able to voice the thoughts of a woman her age facing terminal illness. At her father's funeral with her boyfriend, Irina thinks

It's true that we are all mortal, but maybe it's also true that some of us are more mortal than others. The cemetery was almost lovely—full of the mild green of new buds and grass shyly beginning to assert itself, the cool wind blowing the trees' shadows across the graves in a way that was a little beautiful and a little unnerving. And Jonathan regarded everything—the coffin, the grave, the green Astroturf lad out to conceal the exposed dirt—with the expression of a spectator.

I look back now, and I tell myself that in this, as in all things, there are advantages. So we don't marry, have children, grow old together. This is what we miss. We also don't stop sleeping together, divorce, come to see each other as strangers, look back in bewildered grief to those early days and try to unravel how it all went so wrong. Those days—that last spring in Boston—were the only days. There is something to be grateful for in this, I think.

What are you reading this week?

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