1. Are Irina’s actions ultimately courageous or cowardly? Do you see her ending as happy?
2. In some ways, Irina’s and Aleksandr’s situations are similar—and in many ways, they are very different. What do you think brings Aleksandr and Irina together as friends? What do you think they learn from each other?
3. The character of Misha challenges Aleksandr’s vision of Russia’s democratic future. Is there any merit to his argument about the pragmatism of slower change? How do recent events in the Arab world speak to this argument?
4. Irina treasures her intellect, and fears that she will not be herself anymore once she begins to lose it. What do you think makes you “you”? Do you feel there’s some essential quality that makes you who you are—and that, if you lost it, you wouldn’t be the same person?
5. Why are Aleksandr’s sections written in third person, while Irina’s sections are written in first? How does this decision inform your reaction to the book? Did you find you connected more with either Irina or Aleksandr?
6. What do you think would have become of Ivan if he’d lived?
7. Irina can often be sardonic and fatalistic. Are there any examples of her behaving in ways that subvert this cynical pose?
8. Beyond Aleksandr’s political career and Irina’s disease, do you see other lost causes in the book? Have you been faced with a lost cause in your own life, and how did you react to it?
9. How does chess work as a metaphor in the book? Is the structure of the game itself mirrored in the structure of the book?
10. Do you think that Aleksandr’s chess brilliance ultimately made him a better or worse person?
11. What role does Irina play in the reunion between Elizabeta and Aleksandr? Do you that they might have reconnected if Irina had never come to Russia?
12. After Misha’s letter to the editor is published, Boris decides to abandon Aleksandr’s campaign, while Viktor decides to go with Irina to Perm. If you were Boris or Viktor, what decision do you think you would have made?
(Questions issued by publisher.)
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