Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Review: Moonlight in Odessa

The post-Soviet Ukraine is the setting for this story of love, ambition, and disappointment. For Daria, a smart and ambitious young Odessan, her great wish is to move to the English-speaking world. Her English skills have gotten her a coveted job with an Israeli shipping firm, offering benefits unavailable to most Odessans. The promise of the job seems ruined when her boss's expectations and dalliances encourage Daria to look elsewhere for work. This search lands her in a matchmaking firm that arranges mail-order marriages. Dara may be a Soviet Unions employee, but it isn't long before she is receiving proposals herself, and is faced with the difficult decision of whether to leave home and family in the Ukraine to marry a man she hardly knows in a place she wants to live. The results of her choice form the bulk of this book's content. Overall, I found this to be an excellent book. The plot was both complicated and compelling. More striking, though, was the Ukrainian setting for the story. I knew little of Odessa; Charles clearly has an affection for the city: its problems, its history, its beauty. The novel also offers a biting commentary on mail-order marriages, which have apparently become even bigger business with the availability of the internet. While reading this book I became invested in Daria; I wanted to know her fate. Charles does an excellent job of showing just what faces bright young women coming of age in the post-Soviet Ukraine. Daria earns more as an office worker than she would as the engineer she trained to be. The entire country, it seems, runs on corruption. Daria makes herself a valuable employee by figuring out how to manage all of the necessary bribes to keep her firm's shipments on time and the mafia at bay. A fascinating book and an engaging read- well worth my time.

Janet Seskin Charles, Moonlight in Odessa (Bloomsbury, 2009) ISBN: 1596916729

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