05/28/2013 06:12 pm ET

'You Are One Of Them' By Elliott Holt: Book We're Talking About

Penguin Press

You Are One Of Them by Elliott Holt
$26.95, Penguin Press
Published May 30th 2013

What is it about?
The author's website describes it as "a haunting debut novel set in 1980s Washington and 1990s Moscow about the power of allegiance, the mysteries of friendship, and the shape-shifting nature of truth."

Why are we talking about it?
Though a debut author, Elliott Holt has been a part of the literary scene on Twitter for a while. The book received blurbs from A.M. Homes and Kevin Wilson (Family Fang), and was included in the highly regarded The Millions list of top releases in 2013.

Who wrote it?
Elliott Holt is a Washington, DC-based author who has had fiction published in Guernica and Kenyon Review. She was runner-up for a PEN Emerging Writers Award in 2011.

Who will read it?
People who enjoy intelligent, well-written fiction. Readers interested in a smart combination of 80s politics, mid 90s Russia and a coming-of-age novel. People who enjoy debuts by writers who may well become significant figures in literary circles.

What do the reviewers say?

New York Times: "A hugely absorbing first novel from a writer with a fluid, vivid style and a rare knack for balancing the pleasure of entertainment with the deeper gratification of insight."

Star Tribune: "The resolution to Holt’s novel brings together all of the elements raised in the preceding pages, from saber-rattling to childhood betrayals. It’s a dramatically satisfying ending that invokes those things that we can never know."

Impress your friends:
In 2009, Russia's interior minister stated that the country's per capita alcohol intake "including babies" was 18 liters of spirits per year. The U.S. number for those aged over 14 years old is around 2.8 liters.

Opening lines
In Moscow I was always cold. I suppose that's what Russia is known for. Winter. But it is winter to a degree I could not have imagined before I moved there. Winter not of the pristine, romantic "Doctor Zhivago" variety but a season so insistent and hateful that all hope freezes with your toes.

Typical passage:
"Lift ne rabotayet," he said, which can be translated as "The elevator isn't working (right now)" or "The elevator doesn't work (generally)." The latter seemed more accurate.

I was beginning to understand that elevators never worked in Moscow. "Soon it will be fixed," people said to save face, but as with so much of the infrastructure, one had the sense that they couldn't be fixed anytime soon. And so we began the long climb up to the seventh floor. The stairs were wide and dark - the bulbs in each stairwell were out - and despite the grand sweep of the entrance hall the successive flights narrowed. I was short of breath when we reached the top. There were piles of cigarette ash on the floor. Svetlana opened the door and ushered me in.