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Posted August 11, 2009
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!
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Posted July 17, 2012
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.
Posted May 14, 2010
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.
Posted December 29, 2009
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.
Posted October 17, 2009
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
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Posted April 10, 2012
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Posted February 2, 2011
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