Wednesday, January 08, 2014


You Are One of Them, Elliott Holt, The Penguin Press, 2013, 290 pp

Elliott Holt's first novel was just OK, not great but an interesting story about a friendship between two young girls, the Cold War, Russia, and moving on. Novels by American writers set in Russia have proliferated in recent years and I have read quite a few, so it is hard not to compare them.

I'll get my quibbles out of the way. Sometimes the dates of incidents in the story occurring in the late 1970s and early 1980s felt inaccurate to me. I was not following the Cold War and fear of atomic annihilation in those years. Looking back now, I can't recall thinking about that stuff after 1969, so I could be wrong.

I kept comparing this book to A Partial History of Lost Causes. Holt covers a similar set of descriptions about post-communist Russia, the cold, the vodka, the smoking, the ugliness, and the scamming, but the emotional depth of her tale does not plunge as far as Jennifer DuBois did in her novel.

What I liked was the main character, Sarah Zuckerman, and her slow emergence from innocence. It is true to me that one can become submerged beneath the personal power of a friend, especially at 10 years old, and when the inevitable betrayal comes, it causes an arrested development in the betrayed. One has been a dupe. The author accurately portrays such a catastrophe.

She also writes well and I will read her next novel. As she says in the last line, "I had new stories to tell." When it comes to books set in contemporary Russia, I plan to stick to Russian authors in the future.

(You Are One of Them is available in hardcover and eBook by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore. The paperback will be released in March, 2014)

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