Saturday, March 19, 2011
Moonlight In Odessa – Janet Skeslien Charles
Disclaimer: A copy of this book was provided by Librarything as part of their Early Reviewers Programme. The views expressed here are honest and are in no way influenced by the author or the publisher(s).
Odessa, Ukraine, is the humour capital of the former Soviet Union, but in an upside-down world where waiters earn more than doctors and Odessans depend on the Mafia for basics like phone service and medical supplies, no one is laughing. After months of job hunting, Daria, a young engineer, finds a plum position at a foreign firm as a secretary. But every plum has a pit. In this case, it’s Mr. Harmon, who makes it clear that sleeping with him is job one. Daria evades Harmon’s advances by recruiting her neighbour, the slippery Olga, to be his mistress. But soon Olga sets her sights on Daria’s job.
Daria begins to moonlight as an interpreter at Soviet Unions(TM), a matchmaking agency that organizes “socials” where lonely American men can meet desperate Odessan women. Her grandmother wants Daria to leave Ukraine for good and pushes her to marry one of the men she meets, but Daria already has feelings for a local. She must choose between her world and America, between Vlad, a sexy, irresponsible mobster, and Tristan, a teacher nearly twice her age. Daria chooses security and America. Only it’s not exactly what she thought it would be…
A wry, tender, and darkly funny look at marriage, the desires we don’t acknowledge, and the aftermath of communism, Moonlight in Odessa is a novel about the choices and sacrifices that people make in the pursuit of love and stability.
From the get go, Moonlight in Odessa is no ordinary story. Set in Ukraine, It’s a wonderfully woven tale of Daria, a young, headstrong Odessan woman who is looking towards the West. What is she in search of? The reader thinks that it’s a better life and even love but by the end of the tale, the main character and the reader are none the wiser. Moonlight In Odessa is a story about culture, language and one young woman’s quest for experience.
The tale has an undertone that is not explored by the average joe. The Mail Order Bride Trade often times occur between Eastern European women, who are looking for an alternative to their economically challenge lifestyle and Western men who are single, financially stable and looking for companionship. According to Teddy Wayne in his article “The Mail Order Bride Trade is flourishing”- (Business Week online - January 6th 2011) the Mail Order Bride System or Match Making (as the term is often interchanged) “…….is now a growing segment in the US Online Dating Industry…….. racking up more than $2 billion in revenue…”. On top of that, up to 16,500 unions were sealed between the periods 1999-2007. Thus the subject matter provides Skeslien Charles with a solid foundation for Moonlight in Odessa.
Skeslien Charles provides an insight in to The Mail Order Bride Trade through the eyes of Daria. It exposes the reader to the realities that these immigrant brides face. Much to my surprise, Skeslien Charles does not stick to the mold in Moonlight in Odessa. Daria is more of a heroine than a helpless, economically challenged victim and it was fun getting to know her.
I loved the vivid, rich scenes set in Odessa. Sometimes the way in which Daria viewed Odessa felt like a double-edged sword. There were times where she would take pride in the character that Odessa had, the buildings and its people but at other times she admonished the public transportation or the bureaucracy that slowed growth and progress. However I saw this as embodying the discontent that any person (whether they live in a first world or third world country) would have. Further the way in Daria used poetry and irregular verbs to express herself was also interesting to read as much of her frame of reference came from Eastern European authors.
Moonlight in Odessa is my first read for the Eastern European Reading Challenge hosted by Amy over at The Black Sheep Dances. It is a good story and deserves to be on everyone’s bookshelf.
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