A Partial History of Lost Causes
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". . . an intricate and suspenseful tale . . ."
The parallel lives of an American woman and a world chess champion from the Soviet Union tragically disentangle in Jennifer Dubois’ historical fiction, A Partial History of Lost Causes, entitled after dissidents’ propaganda leaflets during the Cold War.
Aleksandr Kimovich Bezetov, a young chess prodigy, sides with the opposition until one of his comrades is murdered and fearing he is next, reluctantly and under pressure, he joins the Communist Party. When Irina Ellison first heard of Bezetov, her father was in the early stages of the debilitating Huntington’s disease. She recalls her father’s admiration for the chess player, referring to him as “personification of order over anarchy.”
After her father’s death she discovers Bezetov had written to him, but the response failed to answer her father’s question: When you know you are “nearing the bitterest of losses” how do you proceed?
When thirty-year-old Ellison, who inherits her father’s illness, nears the time she too will lose her memory and muscle functions, she goes in search of Bezetov, a quest she acknowledges as “absurd and misdirected.” She finds Bezetov is using the mass fortune he earned as world’s chess champion to embark on a deadly political challenge against then-Russian President Valdimir Putin.
In a twist of fate they discover upon meeting that they are the are both lethally marked: “Death stalked us: every day we caught glimpses of it out of the corner of our eyes, a grinning hyena through a thicket.” Irina aids Bezetov in filming a documentary to expose Putin’s KGB tactics against his opposition and his greed for power.
Dubois weaves an intricate and suspenseful tale, although tedious when she recites numerous well-known press allegations. But she deserves accolades for dwelling deep in formidable issues and drawing attention to the Russia’s dubious attempts to establish democracy. Since the book was written, Putin has been re-elected president, followed by continued protests, including the much-publicized arrest of members of a women’s punk band for using artistic expression to call for Putin’s ouster, just as Bezetov’s film did in 2007.
Reviewer: Kate Padilla