|Chess Life Bonus: Author Interview with Jennifer DuBois
|By Dr. Tim Redman
|September 5, 2012
In the September 2012 Chess Life, in the mail now to Premium Members and available online HERE to Regular Members, Dr. Tim Redman reviews the novel A Partial History of Lost Causes by Jennifer DuBois. Here is a brief interview Dr. Redman conducted with the author:
Q: Your novel shows considerable knowledge of the chess world. Do you play chess? Have you ever been a U.S. Chess Federation member? How did you come to know us so well?
A: I play chess sporadically and badly, but I've always been fascinated by the game and the world. While I did a lot of general background research for A Partial History of Lost Causes, the really fun and challenging part was in figuring out how to write specific, serious games into the book. I would never have been able to invent their choreographies myself, so I found the moves of particular games--Kasparov vs. Karpov, for example, and Kasparov vs. Deep Blue--to use as models. I studied the games on my own chessboard to get a sense of what they looked like, and then I tried to narrate them in a way that would be convincing for readers who played and compelling for readers who did not. I hope that the pivotal chess moments in the book--like my character Aleksandr Bezetov's fatal mistake while playing the computer program--resonate intellectually for chess players while resonating emotionally for everyone.
Q: Your novel also demonstrates a detailed knowledge of the Soviet Union. Have you spent much time in Russia? How much and when? Do you speak and/or read Russian? How did you acquire that background?
A: I speak and write Russian about as well as I play chess, and I've been to Russia only twice--in 2010, just after I'd finished writing A Partial History of Lost Causes, and in 1990, when I was six. That first trip seems to have sparked my lifelong fascination in Eastern Europe generally and in Russia specifically--I'm a committed international politics nerd, so I'm particularly interested in Russian political culture and development. When you're writing your first novel, I think you're really just writing for yourself most of the time--it's hard to believe anyone else will ever read your book, and in any case, nobody's ever going to read the thing as many times as you are. So in choosing to write about Russia, I was probably just trying to lure myself to my desk with a subject I loved and was truly interested in (which was lucky, since the amount of research involved would have been absolutely terrifying otherwise).
Q: Although the copyright page contains the usual disclaimer about resemblance to actual people, the book is clearly based on the chess and political career of Garry Kasparov. Why the disclaimer?
A: I think that disclaimer is pretty standard when there's any small element of fiction in a book, and in this case, there's really only a small element that is grounded in reality. Though some of the general progression of Aleksandr Bezetov's career is indeed based on Kasparov's--as are some specific moments, such as when Bezetov loses to a computer program and when he's bludgeoned with a chessboard by an irate former fan--most of it is invented: Bezetov's Brezhnev-era involvement in the samizdat movement, for example, and all of his personal relationships (including his friendship with Irina), and the entirety of his inner life throughout the book. Kasparov's story served an interesting jumping-off point for the novel, but I only stole those bits of his life that worked for the narrative. Everything else is fiction.
Access Dr. Tim Redman's review in the September 2012 Chess Life Magazine.