You are one of them by Elliott Holt


All people of my generation remember Samantha Smith. It was such a bold idea – to write to Andropov and get a personal invitation to visit another country. I’m sure, a lot of parents encouraged their kids to do the same afterwards. You probably remember that a few years after Samantha and her parents tragically died in a plane crash.

You Are One of Them has at least 3 theories what could have happened. Jennifer Jones lives in Washington D.C. and goes to school, with her friend Sarah. Sarah is an intellectual ugly duckling, awkward and sad, Jenny is more simple, likable and outgoing. They are best friends forever and they both write letters to Yuri Andropov, but only one of the letters gets published. They slowly grow apart and then Jenny dies.

About 10 years later, in mid-1990-es Sarah receives an e-mail from Russia suggesting that Jenny and her parents did not die, they might have been Soviet spies, they defected to USSR. Sarah has always wanted to visit Moscow, and she still hasn’t forgiven her former friend, she decides to go and see for herself. What she sees is the “New Russia” – almost the same country I personally remember, just before we left. Sarah’s descriptions of Russians are so deep and revealing, I literally wanted to bookmark everything. This was the time, when everyone believed that Russia was changing, that people were opening up to new values, that transformation was well underway. As we see now – those changes weren’t internalized and did not last.

Sarah observes Moscow and does not quite know what to believe, everyone lies, everyone has a hidden agenda. The ending is not very conclusive, you can pick your own side and believe whatever you want (which is what usually happens, you never really know who lied and why, right?), but the most important thing is that Sarah is able to outgrow her teenage resentment, she comes to terms with what she is and knows what she wants to do next.

It is a spy story, but the descriptions of Russia are so brilliant – I could not put this book down!

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3 Responses to You are one of them by Elliott Holt

  1. Sm says:

    You clearly should have been born in european country to a different family because you dislike your origins.
    But what happening in Russia now is so alarming. For instance anti-gay law. Why would they do it? Even from practical standpoint, it’s a very bad PR.
    It’s like everything rolls back to USSR. That would be very sad

    • Yana says:

      I would have also much preferred to be born with an EU passport, but I cannot change that 😉 I do not dislike my origins, but I am often ashamed of Russian politics and some people behaviors. I totally understand why anti – gay law was enacted, it is because the majority of Russians are not tolerant and not comfortable with the idea of accepting gay rights. So this law makes the president popular, people probably feel that they are being protected. Anything anti-American or anti-rich or anti- liberal would have the same reaction. I totally agree that everything I hear about Russia lately looks like USSR comeback, that is why this book is so moving.

      • Sm says:

        Russia existed without any democratic institutions for many many centuries (or its whole history). To expect it and its people to be beacons of civilizations and tolerance is too much to ask. I believe most of russians are normal people who just want to live normal life at last without any wars and revolutions. With slow progress and education people would learn. I mean, in USA just 20-30 years ago racial situation was completely different than it is now. People were educated slowly about tolerance and political correctness.
        Only this slow progress i was talking about goes now in opposite direction in Russia. God, do i hope it will change, but i have bad feeling in my stomach.

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