Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Moonlight in Odessa by Janet Skeslien Charles

Flap copy from ARC:
"Odessa, Ukraine, is the humor 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 neighbor, 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..."

I really wanted to like this book which has such an interesting premise and started out strong. Daria is a great character, and I felt truly invested in her struggles and her life in Odessa. The descriptions of trying to work in the post-Soviet era Ukraine are hysterical. The entire mail-order bride business is both amusing and tragic, and is very well depicted in this novel.

Unfortunately, once Daria makes a choice about how she wants to live her life, my interest in the book rapidly waned. Daria immediately lost all of the vivacity and humor that made her such an interesting character, and without a strong character interestd to drive it, the narrative petered out. I feel like this was two different novels- one a lighthearted chick-lit offering with set in Odessa, the other a darker look at the questionable world of international mail order brides. Either book as a stand-alone tale would have been an enjoyable read, but the combination here weakened the impact of story.

1 comment:

Book Bird Dog said...

I'm curious now about what Daria found in America and how she liked it. Not too much that was different, I am guessing, since you found it boring once she made the decision to come to the U.S. That was a somewhat predictable decision, but it would have been more interesting if she had chosen another path, it seems.