Sunday, January 16, 2011

Moonlight in Odessa

Moonlight in Odessa by Janet Skeslien Charles

In Odessa, 23-year-old Daria, who's trained as an engineer, works a secretary for the head of an Israeli shipping firm and moonlights as an interpreter for Soviet Unions, a matchmaking agency that specializes in providing mail-order brides to American men. She lives with her doting grandmother (called Boba), but longs to marry and have a family. Faced with a dearth of suitable bachelors (the only man interested in her is a gangster) and encouraged by Boba, Daria decides that her happily-ever-after lies in America with Soviet Unions client, Tristan.

Moonlight in Odessa is written in the first person. Daria is a sympathetic character with a clear and compelling voice. She's smart, plucky, and knows how to handle herself. Once in America, however, Daria looses all of her spunk.

I enjoyed the first part of the book (through page 214), the last 125 pages, I did not. Charles does a good job in highlighting the challenges inherent in navigating life in post-Soviet Ukraine. Her (and Daria's) Odessa is peopled with interesting, if not always likable, characters: enigmatic Vlad, formidable Valentina Borisovna, lecherous Mr. Harmon, two-faced Olga, and well-meaning. Once Daria leaves Odessa, the story becomes as bleak as she does. While Daria is eventually able to rally herself enough to take back control of her own life, the novel's conclusion is too perfect to be believable.

While I found Moonlight in Odessa disappointing overall, it is Charles' first novel and the novel's strong points indicate that Charles has quite a bit of potential.

Daria on moonlight:
Moonlight. I love this word. So romantic. There is a hint of secrecy, of deeds done at night when no one can see. I love its transformation from noun to verb. To moonlight: to work a second job on the sly. (45)

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