A Partial History of Lost Causes

By Jennifer Dubois
Genre: Adventure
Buy Now This book is on reading list for February 2014

Why We Like This Book

This novel offers a stunning narrative on mortality. Without any gimmicks, the author provides two compelling character studies in a setting rife with its own challenges. The writing is absolutely beautiful, while often painful. We recommend this book highly and without reservation.

Discussion Questions

Look at Irina’s father’s letter on page 55. How does this set up the entire structure and narrative of the novel?

How does the structure of the novel help us to understand Irina and Aleksandr’s situations. How are they similar and/or different. What ultimately brings Aleksandr and Irina together as friends? What do you think they learn from each other?

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?

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? Also, why does Irina’s timeline cover two years while Aleksandr’s nearly thirty years. How does this influence our feelings about mortality?

What do you think would have become of Ivan if he’d lived?

Beyond Aleksandr’s political career and Irina’s disease, do you see other lost causes in the book?

How does chess work as a metaphor in the book? Is the structure of the game itself mirrored in the structure of the book?

What role does Irina play in the reunion between Elizabeta and Aleksandr? Do you that they might have reconnected if Irina had never come to Russia?

After Misha’s letter to the editor is published, Boris decides to abandon Aleksandr’s campaign, while Viktor decides to go with Irina to Perm. If you were Boris or Viktor, what decision do you think you would have made?

Some questions adapted from www.randomhouse.com

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