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Ten years later, Sarah is about to graduate from college when she receives a mysterious letter from Moscow suggesting that Jenny's death might have been a hoax. She sets off to the former Soviet Union in search of the truth, but the more she delves into her personal Cold War history, the harder it is to separate facts from propaganda.
You Are One of Them is a taut, moving debut about the ways in which we define ourselves against others and the secrets we keep from those who are closest to us. In her insightful forensic of a mourned friendship, Holt illuminates the long lasting sting of abandonment and the measures we take to bring back those we have lost.
We went swimming that afternoon, and I can still remember my first glimpse of Jenny underwater. We sank beneath the surface in unison and sat cross-legged in a breath-holding contest on the bottom of the pool. She wore a canary yellow bathing suit and green goggles and I could see her eyes open wide and staring at me, her rival. I forced my eyes open despite the sting of chlorine. From above, the pool looked glassy and hard, a surface that must be broken with force, but below, it was soft and beckoning, a membrane through which light sieved like sugar. The sunlight webbed across Jenny’s skin and through her hair, giving it a reddish tint. Suddenly, she stuck out her tongue. My laughter forced me up for air. “I win!” Jenny announced as she triumphed from below.
Mrs. Jones asked about my family. What did my dad do, she wanted to know.
“He lives in London,” I said.
“London, England? Gosh, that’s far away,” she said.
“They’re divorced,” I said. And though divorce was not uncommon in our Washington circles, Mrs. Jones looked shocked. I liked her innocence: troubled thoughts rushed across her face like clouds and were gone just as quickly. She was a clear sky.
“What about your mom? What does she do?”
“She works for nuclear disarmament,” I said.
It was only after my father left that my mother had begun to worry about nuclear war. The good thing was that she started leaving the house to attend disarmament meetings. She got over her fear of the dark so that she could turn our basement into a fallout shelter. She mapped out scenarios, calculating the reach of the radioactive fallout if the blast hit Kansas City, say, or Washington. She drew ominous red circles in our Rand-McNally to mark the circumference of destruction. At the kitchen table, the hanging lamp created a tunnel of light under which she envisioned doom. She’d press her slide rule across swaths of U.S. territory.
I liked to flip the atlas to the Soviet Union, its borders drawn in a muted red. I couldn’t even fit the top of my pinkie inside Luxembourg, but could press both of my palms onto the Soviet sprawl. The Russians fascinated me. My mother and I watched clips of Brezhnev on the evening news—his chest clotted with medals, his eyebrows bristling under his fur hat—but it was ordinary Russians I was curious about. Moscow, as the capital of the other Superpower, struck me as Washington’s twin. Was there an eight-year-old girl somewhere in Moscow whose sister had also died, whose father had also left?
Posted June 11, 2013
During the Andropov Era in the Soviet Union, two American girls, Sarah Zuckerman and Jennifer Jones, write letters to the Premier about the arms race. Sarah came up with the idea, but Jenny's letter seemingly impressed Andropov more, so much so that the Jones family is invited to visit the country. The ensuing publicity drives a wedge between the girls, a wedge that freezes Sarah in time when Jenny and her parents get killed in a plane crash in the Soviet Union. Sarah's mother, abandoned by her British ex-pat husband and obsessed to the breaking point with nuclear war, gets a nonprofit fund started in Jenny's name. And life goes on -- or so it seems.
Flash forward to 1995 and the end of the Soviet Union. Sarah, now out of college, is still haunted by Jenny -- she seemed to have everything Sarah needed: the perfect family, the perfect life, the perfect future. But nothing seems to have changed in Sarah's life. Until one day, she receives a mysterious letter suggesting Jenny may still be alive and living in what is now Russia. Sarah gets on a plane and heads over, bombarded both by her own unresolved feelings about Jenny and by the new Russia. She meets Svetlana, the writer of the note, who eventually introduces her to Zoya, who might or might not be Jenny. Zoya knows some things, but not others. (Like the discovery that Andropov never got Sarah's letter because Jenny's dad intercepted it and hid it behind a bedroom mirror.) But there's a very good reason to not believe Zoya: she needs money. The nonprofit fund has now grown to a sizable amount of cash, and a very bad investment has wiped Zoya out; if Sarah gives her the money, she'll be solvent. But Sarah has been rethinking her relationship with Jenny, and isn't so sure if Jenny was ever Jenny, or only the Jenny the young Sarah needed in her life at the time. Does she even need her now, alive or dead?
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