Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Review: Moonlight in Odessa by Janet Skeslien Charles

I received this book for review from LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program. When I received it, I really didn't know what to expect. I'd never read anything about the Ukraine, and very little about Russia (just Dr. Zhivago, which I loathed). But the premise sounded interesting and I thought I should give the region another chance.

The book is about Daria, a young Odessan woman who is trapped in a miserable job, working for a pig of a boss, making almost no money as a secretary when she has a degree in engineering, with no possibility of escape on the horizon. While she has a love-hate relationship with Odessa (she loves its beauty and traditions, hates the fact that it is such a dead-end), she realizes that her only hope is to leave, to get out, find a better life elsewhere. But most Odessans never leave. The key for most Odessan women is to marry a foreigner (read: American) and move away for a better life. Odessan men are drunks and layabouts; American men promise freedom and an easy life.

To supplement her income, Daria takes a job working for an internet matchmaking company called Soviet Unions (HA!), translating for the girls and their dates. While she initially loves the work, which allows her to use her beloved English more often, she comes to realize that she is, basically, trafficking in these women. When she meets Tristan, an American teacher, online through Soviet Unions, she has to choose between him and his promise of the American dream, or Vladimir Stanislavski, a local mobster and the uncertain future he offers. And what about her boss, Mr. Harmon?

My favorite part was the first section. I love who Daria is, how fearless she is in taking charge at work, how she is able to stand up to Vlad. The second section, in which things change substantially, made me mostly very sad. (I'm being very vague on purpose, so as not to spoil the events of the book.) But I loved the end. It was a happy ever after (sort of), but open-ended, with a lot of questions unanswered. I kept thinking about Daria after the novel ended and wondering what happens to her next. I don't usually give quarter-Whatevers, but I couldn't decide between four and four-and-a-half. And its my blog, so I can do whatever I want. So I'm going to give this book four and a quarter Whatevers. Read it. It's fun, not too heavy, and I'm sure you will be glad you did.


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