How does you proceed when you know you are on a lost cause? You head out to St. Petersburg, Russia to find a chess prodigy your father adored.
Irina, a thirty year old English lecturer is diagnosed with Huntington’s disease, a terminal (and inherited) illness that effectively puts a death stamp on her life, one year, give or take. She resigns her prestigious job at Cambridge and sets out on a quixotic search of a world chess champion who has since turned to politics and put his Cold-war era tournaments behind him.
Irina recounts his dad’s final weeks with the disease, and the many Sundays she’d sit next to him in a nursing home. He no longer knew who or where he was but she’d still have perky one-sided conversations with him, stroke his arms and feed him pharmacy-bought chocolates.
Irina is stunned when she finally meets Aleksandr. Years after he stopped playing chess, Aleksandr starts playing politics and decides to take on Vladimir Putin, dangerous move and one that almost certainly guarantees a crushing defeat.
Aleksandr moves to St. Petersburgh, with its enormous billboards, neon lights that make stamps of light against the sky, and bored women with absent eyebrows lining up outside night clubs and pouring vodka into the snow.
Irina eventually joins Aleksandr’s campaign team, knowing too well she is being assessed by some convoluted system of social metrics she doesn’t understand. But her story demonstrates the stubbornness of the human will and the depths of human courage.
Five stars from me!