Meg's Reviews > Moonlight in Odessa: A Novel

Moonlight in Odessa by Janet Skeslien Charles
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's review
Apr 02, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: sent-for-review, read-in-2011, contemporary-fiction
Read from April 02 to 04, 2011

Janet Skeslien Charles’ Moonlight In Odessa is addictive, unexpected and a deeply acquired taste — I’ll say that right off the bat. It’s bawdy. A little over-the-top. Funny but also tragic; fascinating, but almost morbidly so. Deeply entrenched in romance, love, sex — and everything in between. It’s about making choices and where those choices lead you.

I started this book on a sunny afternoon, intimidated by its girth, but it wasn’t long before I was hopelessly sucked into Daria’s story and enchanted by her Boba, a strong woman who raised her granddaughter alone. Daria’s devotion to her only close relative is heartwarming, and I longed to spend time enjoying feasts in their tiny flat. Though Daria’s new job comes with terrible compromises, I understood why she took it: it was an opportunity. And in a city rife with suffering and financial troubles, that opportunity meant a better life for Boba. Boba — to whom she owed everything.

When Daria begins her second job with the mail-order — or email-order — bride agency, the plot spun in a wildly different direction. We’d spent more than 100 pages establishing life in Odessa, and Charles skillfully detailed Daria’s circumstances — and what would bring her to the decisions she made. Never rushed and always entertaining, we’re given a solid look into our narrator’s world without ever getting weighed down with detail. These were people I felt I really knew.

But I never knew where we were headed, never knew what was around the next bend — and neither, it seems, did Daria. Intelligent, beautiful and strong-willed, it was hard to imagine her making certain decisions . . . but then again, it wasn’t. Charles deftly spun web after web, ensnaring readers, and even I couldn’t help but feel Daria had made the right choices . . . until she didn’t. It was a hard story to put down.

Moonlight In Odessa places a huge emphasis on the cultural differences between American and Ukrainian culture, and the author herself — an American — spent two years studying in the title city. Daria’s voice feels very authentic — so much so that I was shocked to learn Charles is not from Odessa. Reading about Daria’s culture shock further endeared her to me, and I loved her perceptions of American idioms and behaviors. It’s always interesting to view your own world through another’s lens.

But though I really enjoyed it, I concede that this wouldn’t be a book for everyone. The novel closely looks at sex, love and the differences therein, and some of the situations made me a little uncomfortable. Having just watched a documentary on online brides, I was fascinated by Charles’ novel — and would recommend it to contemporary fiction lovers seeking an unconventional sort of story.
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04/02/2011 page 41
12.0% "Very amusing so far!"
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