Russian pen pal to American pen pal, 1985

Is national pastime of Russian children!

Dear Susan,

How are you? It is not normal that I am sending you letter before I am getting back reply. But it is two months since I send you last letter. Maybe you are not getting old letter. So I tell you again.

I also like to read. I like to play with dolls. I am just like you even though you are living in America and I am living in U.S.S.R. I am sending you letter for asking for cigarettes. Where are cigarettes I am asking you for in old letters?

My favorite book is Anna Karenina. Anna is not smoking cigarettes. But my father is smoking cigarettes. We both are wanting to know where is cigarettes? Do you read Anna Karenina? What book is the favorite?

I am happy to be pen pals through program connects America and U.S.S.R. children. Please write back soon with cigarettes in letter.

Your friend,

Sasha Apelboym

p.s. I am especially waiting for cigarettes.


Ronald Reagan, about a year into his second term, used this letter to show that Soviet-US relations had thawed considerably. Because of this newfound blossoming friendship, the President argued it was the perfect time to bomb the bastards because they’d never be expecting it. His failure to get the Senate onboard for this attack is considered one of the failures of his presidency.

Cigarettes, of course, were as valuable as even the most potent opiates in late-period Soviet Russia. Reformers used the imagery of American smokers to push the Politburo towards reforms. Subversive materials talked of America as a wonderous place where any 11 year old girl could walk into a corner store and buy a veritable mountain of cigarettes with nothing but the pennies she earned laboring at the candy factory. Soviet children, meanwhile, had to make do with small bundles of twigs dipped in vodka. Officially, of course, the Kremlin told the people that in America, children weren’t even allowed to smoke. Of course, high officials conceded in private that the reformers’ views were closer to reality than their own.

We managed to catch up with young Sasha after this letter was donated to us by his pen pal. He managed to do quite well in Russia’s post-Soviet years, pursuing a lucrative career in “Crime,” one of the many new exciting opportunities opened up after the fall of Communism. He never received a response from Susan, for which he is exceedingly bitter. He believes her to be the character of “Sue Sylvester” on the hit TV show “Glee,” and has publicly demanded an apology, as well as some cigarettes. The fictional character has yet to respond to his demands.


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