JG (The Introverted Reader)'s Reviews > Moonlight in Odessa

Moonlight in Odessa by Janet Skeslien Charles
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's review
Nov 06, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: first-reads, 4_stars, z_author_american, fiction, womens_fiction, z_read_in_2009, reviewed, z_setting_ukraine, gave_away
Read in November, 2009

Daria just graduated with a degree in engineering, but in Odessa, Ukraine, jobs are almost impossible to find. She eventually starts work as a secretary for an Israeli import/export firm and as an interpreter for an email order bride company, Soviet Unions. Good men are hard to find in Odessa too, so Daria finds herself corresponding with a few men, even as some she already knows start to make advances.

Full disclosure: I won this in a GoodReads firstreads giveaway.

Really, this was 3.5 stars for me, but I'm rounding up because it's something I'm interested in.

I really liked Daria. She's a sharp-tongued, sharp-witted survivor. Throughout the book she changes in ways that follow a natural progression considering what she's going through. But I felt like the whole "a good man is hard to find and I'm so lonely" side of her got over-developed. That's all she thinks about. At one point, some friends of hers showed up at her house for a birthday party, and I was surprised that she had friends. All I'd seen up until that point was work, and all she'd thought about was work and love. Where did those ladies come from?

I really enjoyed reading about life in Ukraine. We have a surprisingly large community of Ukrainian immigrants where I live. They aren't mail order brides. Whole families come here to escape religious persecution, from what I understand. Anyway, I like listening to one of my co-workers, Sofiya, talk about her life in Ukraine. She never complains, she seems to love her native country, but in a roundabout way, she makes me realize again and again exactly how good I have it. She's only 21, so she never really knew life in the Soviet Union. But she still knows what it's like to be hungry, and her stories of selling old toys on the side of the road, trying to earn money for food, break my heart. I should add here that she comes from a family that seems to be hard-working and caring. But if there's no money, there's no money. She's very open about it all, but I don't even know enough to ask her intelligent questions. I feel like I have a bit more of a starting point after reading this. I feel like we've already had one good discussion because of this book.

The author did a great job of showing why some women feel like becoming a mail order bride is their only option. For various reasons, women outnumber men in Odessa. The men who are left, at least in the book, tend to be alcoholics, abusers, and/or criminals. There aren't any jobs available. Women must choose whether to stay in Odessa, a city they love but where they will never get any further ahead, or whether to take a chance on the unknown dream of America and an American husband. Through Daria's eyes, we see that it's not an easy choice. When former female clients call home with reports of abuse from their American husbands, we see that the dream can become a nightmare. Abuse is bad enough, but imagine being in a country where you don't speak the language, you don't know the system, and you don't know your rights. Terrifying.

Right after starting this book, I caught part of a documentary on TV about this very subject. Maybe I'm projecting my own feelings onto what I saw, but the combination of fear, hope, and uncertainty I saw on the women's faces made me feel for them. It got worse as I watched the soon-to-be husbands start to kiss, hug, and just generally hang all over these women whom they barely knew, and yet who would soon be their brides. The women looked very uncomfortable, but you could tell they were trying to hide it.

All of that came through here. I have to admit that I have the men who use these sites stereotyped as desperate, lonely men. I can't help but feel that they can't get a woman in their own country because there's something wrong with them. I'm sure I'm wrong--they can't all be like that--but this book didn't do anything to dispel that notion. They were all desperate lonely men who couldn't get women in their own country because something was wrong with them.

I've made this sound all serious, and it mostly was, but it had a few lighter moments. Daria's exchanges with Ukrainian men and her friend Olga could be pretty funny. And I'm ready to visit Odessa, based on the loving descriptions of the city found here. Apparently, they have the third-most beautiful opera house in the world. Their climate on the Black Sea sounds positively balmy. Well, compared to what I think of when I think of the former Soviet Union, anyway! They have beaches as we know them! And I want to make my husband carry me up all 192 steps of the Potemkin Staircase. I probably shouldn't say that, or he'll never want to go!

If you're interested in Ukraine or mail order brides, go ahead and pick this up. It was a solid story, I felt like I learned a lot, and it would be great for a group discussion. Look how long I've rambled on here, trying to discuss it by myself without giving anything away!
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Pat (new) - rated it 3 stars

Pat Jen,

let me know what you think of this book when you finish it.

JG (The Introverted Reader) You know I will! :). I actually won this on here.

message 3: by Pat (new) - rated it 3 stars

Pat congrats! I just finished White Queen, really liked it!

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