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Justin Torres: I knew very little about chess going in, but found it to be one of the most fascinating elements of the novel. Can you talk a little bit about the role of chess--not just in terms of plot but as an overarching conceit?
Jennifer duBois: I'd always been interested in chess, and I thought it served as an apt metaphor for both the political and the philosophical concerns of the book--Irina and Aleksandr are both, and with varying degrees of possible success, trying to outmaneuver pretty formidable opponents. On a structural level, the alternating chapters have something of the feel of a chess game--Irina moves, Aleksandr moves. And, without giving too much away, I think the ending has a certain chess logic to it.
Justin Torres: You use time brilliantly and quite differently for Irina and Aleksandr: Aleksandr's story takes place over thirty years, whereas Irina's story covers only two. How did you arrive at this structure?
Jennifer duBois: Because Irina knows she has this diagnosis in front of her, I wanted her to move through time more slowly; her attention to the world around her actually heightens as the book nears its end. Her journey, at least initially, is a bit subtler than Aleksandr's--she's grappling with mortality, with trying to find meaning and beauty in a finite time span. And as Aleksandr begins to confront those same challenges, time starts to move more slowly for him, too, until the two characters are moving through the novel together side by side.
Justin Torres: I loved the unconventional friendship Irina and Aleksandr forge. Their situations share some deep underlying parallels. How do you see Irina and Aleksandr's relationship working for each of them?
Jennifer duBois: There's the obvious parallel that they both fear for their lives, which unites them. But because their circumstances are different, they have different things to teach and learn from each other. Irina admires Aleksandr's energy and willingness to work for something outside of himself, because she's spent so much time sort of waiting out her life. Meeting Aleksandr forces Irina to realize that some people put their own lives at risk on purpose, because there are things worth doing that for. And Aleksandr admires Irina's fearlessness. He takes so many precautions that he winds up feeling trapped, and he sees that Irina's situation has been in some ways liberating for her--that it's driven her toward a more interesting and daring life. And in the end, it's the strange freedom of Irina's situation that allows her to be useful..
How do you proceed when defeat is inevitable? That's the question posed by this novel. Irina, an American woman with little time left before Huntington's disease overtakes her,... Read morePublished 2 months ago by Suzee2
I bought this to read on the plane and enjoyed it. Having read it a couple of times, I am done now. It is no Catcher in the Rye.Published 2 months ago by Rhonda Neswald-Potter
Beautifully written, great storyline. The chess line and Huntingtons was a great parallel. Characters were so we defined. Wish it didn't endPublished 3 months ago by Sharon Sweeney
A rather grim but very well written novel--a great way to learn about life in Leningrad and Moscow in the 80s. Read morePublished 8 months ago by larryb
if you like chess, if you like to read about Russian politics and if you like a book that hits you in many dimensions...this is a good one. Hard to put down once I got into it.Published 12 months ago by bpinvt
This book has an interesting and unusual premise, not just another book to read. Having said that though, it was rather difficult to get through due to the switching back and... Read morePublished 13 months ago by Kristy L.