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Moonlight in Odessa
     

Moonlight in Odessa

3.6 7
by Janet Skeslien Charles
 

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In Odessa, Ukraine, Daria, a whip-smart engineer, spends her days underemployed as a secretary—a job she was lucky to get in this rotten economy. She spends her evenings moonlighting as an interpreter at an agency that matches lonely American men with beautiful-but-broke Ukrainian women. She spends her nights wondering if there is more. When an American client

Overview

In Odessa, Ukraine, Daria, a whip-smart engineer, spends her days underemployed as a secretary—a job she was lucky to get in this rotten economy. She spends her evenings moonlighting as an interpreter at an agency that matches lonely American men with beautiful-but-broke Ukrainian women. She spends her nights wondering if there is more. When an American client offers marriage and a one-way ticket out of poverty, Daria jumps at the chance. She soon learns there's a reason that her husband couldn't find a wife in America, and that the grass isn't always greener on the other side of the world. The perfect book for anyone who's ever been stuck in a dead-end job or relationship, Moonlight in Odessa is an exploration of language, culture, and the difficult choices we make in the pursuit of love and stability.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“[A] gutsy heroine…rising above its chick-lit trappings, Charles's novel probes her narrator's painful discoveries.” —New York Times Book Review

“[A] darkly humorous debut…The endearing and forthright Daria is the perfect guide through the trickery and sincerity of chaotic courtships and short-order love…The teetering dance between humor and heartbreak burns through this tale that takes place at the intersection of love and money, East and West, male and female.” —Publishers Weekly

“Charles's first novel vividly contrasts life in Odessa, a city whose citizens are impoverished and sometimes prejudiced but nevertheless proud, with the materialism and isolation of life in America.” —Library Journal

“Charles paints a tender, bittersweet portrait of Ukraine and Odessa. Best of all, she doesn't oversimplify difficult choices and hard decisions or resort to cardboard villains…A lively, entertaining debut--chick lit with edge.” —Kirkus

“[A] spirited debut… Charles' transatlantic saga explores the dichotomy between Eastern and Western cultures, as well as the assumptions and sacrifices people make in the hope of a better life.” —Booklist

“In her debut novel, Janet Skeslien Charles pulls off a couple of feats. First, the Montana native manages to write convincingly like a Ukrainian who's tackling the English language. Perhaps more impressively, she crams fascinating cultural and historical information into what might otherwise be merely a diverting beach romance. It's like sneaking vitamins into a chocolate shake…this could be a gooey and overwrought story, but Daria's sharp humor and keen insights into human nature make her a winning narrator. In fact, all of the characters are well-drawn, complex and interesting, even the initially sleazy boss. It all goes to show that the romantic beach-read formula needn't be silly, or even formulaic; in the right hands, it can be instructive.” —Bookpage

“Three places occupy the heart of Janet Skeslien Charles's effervescent debut novel, Moonlight in Odessa: Odessa, the cosmopolitan Ukrainian Black Sea port; the U.S.; and a place that has no geographical boundaries but is sought by virtually everyone--the metaphorical land of Love…Charles movingly evokes the hills, valleys, oceans, and forests of this elusive territory. By the end of her tale, I felt deeply drawn to an Odessa I've never known and a San Francisco I've known for decades--and that third place, whose boundless byways exert still an irrepressible allure.” —National Geographic Traveler

“Daria, the whip-smart narrator, leads an engrossing tour of the collisions and collusions of money, sex, power, and romance she encounters… it is Charles' moving exploration of the intricate sacrifices of male-female relationships that resonates as the novel's emotional core…the richness of Charles' imagination and the breadth of her narrative ambition make up for much of the shaky ground. The forgiving reader will be rewarded in spades with a satisfying and original ending, an admirable fidelity to place, and a set of wholly realized, achingly human characters.” —Bust

“In a comically touching travelogue through the international romantic wasteland, Janet Skeslien Charles brings you Daria, a part-time electronic matchmaker who is only one set of dentures short of gorgeous. A heroine for the twenty-first century Ukraine--or as close to the twenty-first century as you can get in the Ukraine--she's street-smart enough to outwit several flawed suitors but can't fend off the lure of the American dream as she fails to recognize the one unwavering global truism: Sometimes people aren't entirely honest on the Internet.” —Dave Boling, author of Guernica

“This is a poignant and original first novel whose author already shows herself well able to handle an intriguing plot and create totally vivid characters. By the way you'll learn so much about Odessa that, even if you never have, you'll think you've been there. And someone ought to copyright the name Soviet Unions for a Russian matchmaking agency!” —Anton Gil, author of the Huy the Scribe mystery series and Art Lover: A Biography of Peggy Guggenheim

Moonlight in Odessa reveals the mesmerizing world of post-Communist Ukraine, both its lawlessness and its old-fashioned allure, as the bright and beautiful Daria pursues her dream of finding husband, child, and house in America. Author Janet Skeslien Charles, with a masterful hand, leads the reader into the labyrinthine journey of her heroine Daria, through the sex and commerce of email-order brides to a land of rednecks in central California. Ms. Skeslien Charles is a keen observer of both worlds, the European and the American, Ukraine and the United States. The choices that Daria must make become the readers' choices. Moonlight in Odessa is a suspenseful page turner and an enlightening story about love and truth, corruption and deceit.” —Susan M. Tiberghien, author of One Year to a Writing Life

Moonlight in Odessa is a shimmering marvel of a novel. In this geopolitical romantic comedy, Janet Skeslien Charles deftly balances caustic wit with generosity of spirit, a breezy style with an incisive vision of East-West relations and the eternal Cold War between men and women. A sheer delight.” —Jake Lamar, author of Rendezvous Eighteenth and Ghosts of Saint-Michel

“This is a delicious novel--wise, witty, wonderfully written--and its narrator--street-smart, tender-hearted Daria K--a pleasure to spend time with. If I ever get to Odessa, I hope Daria will be there to show me around.” —Vivian Gornick, author of Fierce Attachments and The Men in My Life

Sarah Fay
Rising above its chick-lit trappings, Charles's novel probes her narrator's painful discoveries.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

This darkly humorous debut explores the world of eastern European mail-order brides and the men who finance them. Daria, a savvy, warmhearted but standoffish secretary in Odessa, Ukraine, fears that her boss will fire her after she refuses his sexual advances. So to keep him busy (and to keep her job), she sets him up with her shallow friend, Olga, who promptly turns on Daria. Fearing imminent unemployment, Daria takes a second job at Soviet Unions, an Internet dating service that connects Western men with available Ukrainian women. As Daria, who is fluent in English, bridges the language gap between the women and foreign men, she wonders if she will ever find true love. The endearing and forthright Daria is the perfect guide through the trickery and sincerity of chaotic courtships and short-order love. Meanwhile, her own romantic life swirls between a sweet suitor in California, a Ukrainian gangster and her manic boss. The teetering dance between humor and heartbreak burns through this tale that takes place at the intersection of love and money, East and West, male and female. (Sept.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Library Journal

When Daria is hired by an international shipping firm with a branch in Odessa, she is immediately informed by her boss, Mr. Harmon, that she is expected to sleep with him. Daria finds a variety of ways to put him off while proving herself highly competent as a translator and clerk, but eventually she hooks up her friend Olga with Harmon. This works a little too well; not only does Harmon not bother her anymore but now he is not sure he needs her in his employ. Desperate, Daria finds a second job working for Valentina's mail-order bride service, where she's expected to translate for the American men who use the service. But Daria also dreams of finding a husband in America and begins emailing Tristan, who lives outside San Francisco. Alas, what Daria finds in the end is not what she expected. VERDICT Charles's first novel vividly contrasts life in Odessa, a city whose citizes are impoverished and sometimes prejudiced but nevertheless proud, with the materialism and isolation of life in America. Good for ambitious readers.—Josh Cohen Mid-Hudson Lib. Syst., Poughkeepsie, NY


—Josh Cohen
Kirkus Reviews
Ukrainian woman marries a much older American nearly sight unseen, but her husband and his drowsy corner of the United States are not what she expected. Daria's options in her native Odessa are grim. She's a trained engineer, but the best job she can find is as secretary to a foreigner, Mr. Harmon, who blithely announces during her interview that her duties include sleeping with him. For months she staves him off with Penelope-like resourcefulness, but after a near-rape in the office she decides her only remaining defense is to play procurer, so she sets up Harmon with an old schoolmate. Calculating, money-hungry Olga first freezes out Daria, then tries to supplant her in the job. Meanwhile Daria is moonlighting at the matchmaking service Soviet Unions, acting as liaison/interpreter between male American lonely-hearts and women looking for a way out. Her beloved grandmother urges her to light out for America with an e-mail suitor, and with some trepidation Daria does so, choosing Tristan, a stolid Californian 20 years her elder, over Vlad, the charismatic local mobster who's pursuing her. But "near San Francisco" means four hours away, and her jealous, controlling husband turns out to be a custodian rather than a schoolteacher. Charles paints a tender, bittersweet portrait of Ukraine and Odessa. Best of all, she doesn't oversimplify difficult choices and hard decisions or resort to cardboard villains, although noncity dwellers figure here mainly as caricatures. A lively, entertaining debut-chick lit with edge.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781608192328
Publisher:
Bloomsbury USA
Publication date:
08/31/2010
Pages:
352
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)

Meet the Author

Originally from Montana, Janet Skeslien Charles lives in Paris, where she leads writing workshops at the Left Bank bookshop Shakespeare & Company. Moonlight in Odessa was inspired by her two years as a Soros Fellow in Odessa. This is her debut novel.

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Moonlight in Odessa: A Novel 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
TheChaoticBuffalo More than 1 year ago
Learning to Love. I received this book from the author, Janet Skeslien Charles. Daria loves her hometown of Odessa, Ukraine. She loves its history, its culture, and its Black Sea beaches. What she doesn't love about Odessa is its economy. An engineer by education, she works as a secretary for an import company and as an interpreter for an online matchmaking service in order to provide food and a place to live for herself and her grandmother. She's also less than happy with her prospects of meeting a suitable man in Odessa and constantly dreams of being swept off her feet and taken to America where she will live her dream life. Although she sees on a daily basis the deceit of both the Odessan girls and the American men who use the matchmaking service to find "love" or a "new life", she believes she's found the exception when one of the clients begins writing to her. She eventually accepts his offer of a ticket to America and of marriage and begins her new life. What she finds is that her new husband hasn't been completely honsest with her and that wherever you live, life will have its share of downs to go along with the ups. In the end Daria learns that friends are those who are there when no one else is and that life, good or bad, is what you make of it. Much of the story has an oppressive feel to it. This is what Daria lives with for most of the book, so Charles' ability to lead us to share that experience only heightens the sense of empowerment we share with Daria as she learns to live her life as her own. From my perspective, the most satisfying aspect of the book was following the development of a male/female relationship from one of almost predatory animosity to one of mutual respect and non-romantic love through the individual growth of the two wrought by the constant grinding away of the rough edges of each by the other.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
BillPilgrim More than 1 year ago
Daria is the heroine of the novel. She is a native Odessan, and also Jewish, so an outsider of sorts because of that. She is in her early twenties, but never married - almost a spinster under Ukrainian standards. She has been raised by her grandmother, since her mother died when she was a girl and her father was not in the picture. At the start of the book, she still lives with her grandmother, due to the economic circumstances of most people in the country, which makes it impossible for young adults and their parents/grandparents to have separate households. She gets a great job working for an Israeli shipping import firm. However, she was told before she accepted the job that one of her duties would be to sleep with her boss. Still, she resists this requirement, and manages to successfully keep putting him off, until she solves the problem by setting him up with one of her friends. She is attracted to a capo in the Odessan mob, and he tries to get her to spend time to her, mostly without success at the beginning of the book. When she takes a second job working for an Internet company that finds Ukrainian brides for Western men, mostly Americans, Daria begins to think that this is what she should do also, marry an American and find the good life in the United States. I found the characters in the book to be believable and mostly likable, except when they are not supposed to be. But, I was not that taken by the story. It was not one of those books, and I read several like this during the summer, that are hard to put down and you can't wait to get back to them. The author bio in the book states that she spent a couple of years in the Ukraine, and I got the impression that while she was there she tried to collect all of the Ukrainian proverbs and folk sayings that she could, and then was determined to cram them all into this book one way or another. This was slightly annoying for me.
Crina More than 1 year ago
I could not put this book down! 'Moonlight in Odessa' is about a woman from Odessa, Ukraine, who is slowly seduced by the American dream when she starts working at a foreign shipping firm. Daria loves English and longs to escape the hardships of life in her country. She applies for jobs in Western countries but is turned down because she does not having working papers. When she begins moonlighting at a matchmaking agency, she meets American men and wonders if this is a way to get to America. When Daria hesitates, her grandmother pushes her to leave Ukraine. Once Daria travels to America, she sees that people struggle in America, too. Her husband isn't exactly who he said he was. She asks herself if she should stay in America or return home. In America, she slowly falls into a depression and has to fight to become the gutsy woman she was before leaving her native city. Anyone who has been stuck in a dead-end job or relationship will relate to this narrator. This book is about the tough choices people have to make, and the very real consequences of those choices. One of the reasons I enjoyed this book is because the heroine works hard to regain a sense of herself and to regain her life. She is in no way a victim. I loved the way the author constantly worked in other Russian and Ukrainian poems and novels, from Dostoevsky's 'The Idiot' to Babel's 'How Things Were Done in Odessa.' Fans of Russian lit will see many of their favorite works in this novel.
aewarfield More than 1 year ago
This is an intriguing debut novel about mail order brides from the Ukraine. Why would an educated and highly intelligent woman from a beautiful, historic seaside city choose to give up everything for a stranger she barely knows? The story is written from the perspective of one such woman, but reveals much more. It is about family and business relationships, financial security, lonliness, language and cultural stereotypes and even Ukrainian mobsters who (along with their Russian counterparts) are known to be even more brutal than the Italian mafia. This was a fascinating story that I had difficulty putting down until the end... and I wanted more!
debbook More than 1 year ago
Daria is a young Ukrainian woman living in Odessa with her grandmother, Boba. She has a university degree in engineering but is only able to find work in an Israeli import company as a secretary. And when she is hired for the job, it is with the understanding that she will have sex with her boss. Daria knows she is lucky to have this job, but is finding it difficult to hold off her boss, Mr Harmon, who is trying to seduce her and is very jealous of any man that even looks at Daria. She solves this problem by introducing him to her sexy neighbor Olga, who has no qualms about sleeping with a man because he is rich. However, Olga then becomes possessive of Mr Harmon and jealous of Daria and tries to get her fired. Daria handles all of this with aplomb. After all, she handles the Ukrainian mobsters that have to be paid off, the crooked custom agents that have to be bribed to let the company's imports into the country, and a lecherous boss. She needs extra money to buy her and Boba a nicer apartment and moonlights at Soviet Unions, a company that deals in email order brides. Daria works as a translator then takes on more responsibilities. But she begins to worry that what they are really doing is just marketing women as objects and that the American men who come to Odessa just want nannies and housekeepers, not real wives. So naturally, when Daria, who wants to marry for love, gets her heart broken and decides to look for a husband through Soviet Unions. Here is where the book fell off the wagon for me. The author spends a lot of time convincing me of Daria's integrity, strength, cleverness, and independence. Then she begins to make terrible decisions that are completely out of character. Once things get bad, Daria should begin to kick ass and take names. But no, she just suffers silently for way too long to even be remotely believable. And then when she finally stands up for herself at the end, I am supposed to feel what- satisfied? I am finding this too often in books. Sure life can't be perfect or there wouldn't be a story, but this whole women as victims is getting old and quite frankly, boring. It didn't have to be this way in the story and that isn't how the author set it up. So why go there? If that is what an author wants to write about, then set it up that way! Otherwise it just looks like they don't know what to write about women other than the usual cliches. I was disappointed, more so because the book had such potential as did Daria and I feel very let down. This is the author's debut novel and I hope she will find her way in her next book. I did enjoy the descriptions of Odessa and the culture in the post Soviet Union, those parts were excellent. my rating 2/5