Wednesday, August 7, 2013

You Are One of Them by Elliott Holt

You Are One of Them by Elliott Holt is an atmospheric novel that evokes the transitional time towards the end of the Cold War in the USA and the early years of Moscow after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. It's about letting go of the past and coming to terms with betrayal.

Sarah and Jenny were best friends when they were children in Washington DC. In the early 1980s, they both wrote letters to Yuri Andropov, the new leader of the USSR, urging him to put an end to the threat of nuclear war. Only Jenny got a reply. On Andropov's invitation, she travelled to the USSR and became an instant celebrity as a young peace activist. Sarah, ignored by Jenny, was still struggling with her hurt when Jenny and her parents died in a plane crash in 1985.

Ten years later, Sarah receives a cryptic message from Russia. Was Jenny still alive? Had she defected? Sarah travels to Moscow looking for answers and internal peace.

You Are One of Them has a "truth is stranger than fiction" feel. I remembered Samantha Smith, the real girl who wrote to Andropov, and was intrigued by the way Holt riffs on the basics of her story. Holt captures the details of intense girlhood friendship that give a sense of immediacy and connection with Sarah. She also places their relationship within the larger context of society at that time. I very much enjoyed the audiobook read by Cassandra Campbell [Blackstone: 8.5 hr].

Readalike: The part set in Moscow, with the mood of uncertainty and of things going on beneath the surface, reminded me of Snowdrops (A D Miller).

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