A Partial History of Lost Causes

By Jennifer duBois
New York : Dial Press, 2012

Reviewed by Renette Davis

In her debut novel, Jennifer duBois tells two stories. One is of Aleksandr, a young man in Russia who becomes a chess champion, and then when he is older, becomes a politician. The other is of Irina, a young woman in the United States, who has tested positive for Huntington's Disease. Her father had died after a long battle with HD, and she knew that the same fate was in store for her.

Her father had been a chess lover, and while going through his things, Irina found clippings about Aleksandr and a letter that her father had written before Huntington's ravaged his body, asking Aleksandr what he does when he knows he is going to lose. There had been no answer from Aleksandr, but only a note from a woman named Elizabeta, saying that he was not able to respond.

Irina had avoided romantic relationships because of her fear of Huntington's, but started dating a young man, Jonathan, by "accident". However, she was terrified of what would happen when she started having symptoms, so she decided she had to leave him. While she was at it, she decided to leave everything and go to Russia to find Aleksandr and ask him for the answer to her father's question.

This book is very good, although I'm not sure I can actually say that I liked it. The descriptions of Huntington's Disease were very real, as were the descriptions of Irina's fear of what was going to happen to her. I found it somewhat depressing, especially her struggles with whether, how, and when to end her life when she started manifesting the disease.

There are, however, a lot of interesting insights into Russian politics, and the book ended on a positive note. It's a good book for someone who is not familiar with Huntington's Disease, giving real insight into what the disease is like and what it's like for someone who has tested positive, or is at-risk. However, it might be a hard book to read for someone who knows that they carry the gene or who has a 50/50 chance of carrying the gene.

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Created: April 14, 2013
Last updated: April 14, 2013