BOOK REVIEW: A Partial History of Lost Causes by Jennifer DuBois

A Partial History of Lost Causes by Jennifer DuBoisA Partial History of Lost Causes
By Jennifer DuBois
Completed November 22, 2011

I am always searching for new female writing talent, and after doing a little research, I decided to request A Partial History of Lost Causes by Jennifer DuBois from LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer Program. Initial reviews were favorable, and I was intrigued by the story of Irina, who went on a quest to answer her late father’s question, “How do you proceed when you know you’re losing?” The question was posed to a former Soviet chess prodigy, who never answered her father’s question, so Irina set out to Russia to find the answer.

A Partial History of Lost Causes switches between Irina’s narrative and that of Aleksandr, the chess prodigy. Through Aleksandr’s eyes, we see what life was like in the Soviet Union in the 1980’s. Aleksandr, despite his impressive talent, was not well received by Soviet officials, thanks in part to his involvement in an underground anti-Soviet movement. Irina’s sections dealt with her father’s death and her recent diagnosis with Huntington’s disease. Irina only had a few years left before the disease would immobilize her, and her narratives contemplate how she should spend her last good years. The trip to the former Soviet Union to meet Aleksandr seemed to be a perfect, therapeutic way for Irina to deal with her disease and mortality.

I love the premise of the story, but the book did not grab me. I am not a fan of politics, especially in my reading, and the inclusion of Russian politics in this book bogged the story down for me. Additionally, I didn’t feel attached to the main characters. Irina was selfish and cruel while Aleksandr was supercilious and self-absorbed. It was hard to like either one of them.

If you’re contemplating reading A Partial History of Lost Causes, I encourage you to check other critics’ and book bloggers’ views before deciding. This wasn’t the right book for me, but I wish DuBois the best of luck in her career. (  )

This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

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REVIEW: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta SepetysBetween Shades of Gray
By Ruta Sepetys
Completed December 29, 2010

In her debut novel, Between Shades of Gray, Ruta Sepetys explores the Lithuanian deportation by the Soviets in the early 1940’s. Certain citizens of Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Finland were swept up and arrested during World War II. The women and children were sent to labor camps in Siberia, and it’s this journey that is told through the eyes of Lina, the 15-year-old Lithuanian girl who narrates this story.

Between Shades of Gray is written for a young adult audience, but I think readers of all ages could read and learn from this story. Lina is a talented young artist, and her visual depictions on what she experiences leaves nothing for the imagination. Despite the plainness of the language (again, intended for younger readers), the reader gets a bird’s eye view of the torture, cold, labor and death that surrounded Lina’s camp life.

World War II history can be tricky. When we think of genocide during this period, we understandably think of the Holocaust. As someone who frequently reads about this historical period, I am often surprised at the complex layers of this war. You peel away one layer, and something new emerges. In this case, the new thing was the genocide of the Lithuanian people and neighboring countries. Knowing that these atrocities continued in the Soviet Union well after the war makes Lina’s story that much more important to know.

I received Between Shades of Gray as an ARC through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers Program. The galley came with a video – a beautiful tribute by the author to her family and Lithuanian survivors of the Siberian camps. Please check it out:

If you have an interest in tales of human survival or learning from our past, I would recommend Between Shades of Gray to you. I think Sepetys’ writing style will appeal to young readers – and her story will appeal to many more. ( )

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