Quarantine Book Club: Secrets and spies in Lara Prescott’s ‘The Secrets We Kept’


“The Secrets We Kept” by Lara Prescott (Knopf)

Brenna Flanagan, Lifestyles Editor

As the first pick of The Seahawk’s Quarantine Book Club, “The Secrets We Kept” took readers back to the 1950s in a sentimental story of spies and secrecy, split between Russia and America, but brought together by one powerful novelThe story surrounds the masterpiece “Doctor Zhivago,” its author Boris Pasternak and his devoted mistress Olga in the Soviet Union as they fight to stay together while the communist government tries to stifle Pasternak’s revolutionary work. In America, the story follows the training of new spy, Irina, and the redemption of seasoned one, Sallyas they learn to transmit messages and anti-communist literature, leading them right up to the edge of the Iron Curtain. Typists by day and spies by nightSally and Irina deal with hiding not only government secrets but their own as well, as their friendship leads into forbidden terrain that they cannot even find a way out of. It is a story of love—love of words, love of power, love of people. It is also an examination of loyalty and what people are willing to give up when under pressure.  

“The Secrets We Kept” is the first novel from Lara Prescott, who writes with keen attention to detail and character’s humanity in impossible circumstances. She writes with a knowledge of the power of words, and how one’s own passion or duty will drive them to put their lives on the line for it. Prescott is not afraid to show her character’s flaws, letting the readers feel the consequences of their actions along with them. The book takes on many character perspectives, but Prescott writes her core females Irina, Sally and Olga the best. She pays acute detail to their struggles as women with secrets and vital things at stake. For Sally and Irina, she captures the ever-present culture of misogyny and strict societal roles that being exceptional spies will not exempt them from. For Olga, she puts not only her life but her two children’s lives in constant danger for a man and his destiny, even as he refuses to leave his wife. 

That is not to say her male perspectives, especially of Pasternak himself, are anything to skim. Prescott expertly treads the line between showing Pasternak’s selfish desires and actions while redeeming him with his inner thoughts and calling to write. Readers can find bits of themselves in each character; they are incredibly real. Prescott molds the narratives of real events and people into characters in her novel seamlessly, making every motivation believable. Prescott blends selfish and selfless tendencies, among other contradictions, in each of her characters. It is captivating reading how motivations clash with other characters, which is a demonstration of the adeptness and talent of Prescott. You will have to read the book if you want to know where she leaves her characters in the end. 

Read this book if you want Mad Men vibes with an added element of espionage. Read this book if you like history through different perspectives. Read this book if you like stories of love in the face of impossibility. 

If you want more “The Secrets We Kept” stay on the lookout for The Seahawk’s interview with New York Times bestselling author Lara Prescott coming soon.