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Moonlight in Odessa [Kindle Edition]

Janet Skeslien Charles
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Odessa, Ukraine, is the humor capital of the former Soviet Union, but in an upside-down world where waiters earn more than doctors and Odessans depend on the Mafia for basics like phone service and medical supplies, no one is laughing. After months of job hunting, Daria, a young engineer, finds a plum position at a foreign firm as a secretary. But every plum has a pit. In this case, it's Mr. Harmon, who makes it clear that sleeping with him is job one. Daria evades Harmon's advances by recruiting her neighbor, the slippery Olga, to be his mistress. But soon Olga sets her sights on Daria's job. Daria begins to moonlight as an interpreter at Soviet Unions(TM), a matchmaking agency that organizes "socials" where lonely American men can meet desperate Odessan women. Her grandmother wants Daria to leave Ukraine for good and pushes her to marry one of the men she meets, but Daria already has feelings for a local. She must choose between her world and America, between Vlad, a sexy, irresponsible mobster, and Tristan, a teacher nearly twice her age. Daria chooses security and America. Only it's not exactly what she thought it would be... A wry, tender, and darkly funny look at marriage, the desires we don't acknowledge, and the aftermath of communism, Moonlight in Odessa is a novel about the choices and sacrifices that people make in the pursuit of love and stability.

Editorial Reviews

From 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.)
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“[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



Product Details

  • File Size: 623 KB
  • Print Length: 356 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1408802872
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; Reprint edition (July 1, 2009)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B002WOD928
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #609,462 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
First thing, Moonlight in Odessa has no resemblance to Desperate Housewives. What Moonlight in Odessa is however, is a bittersweet tale of post-Soviet Ukraine, love and marriage, and the beacon shone by American for prospective immigrants. From page one, our narrator Daria, is engaging and resilient. She has to be, for Odessa is a pretty colorful city full of people who do what they can to make it. Not quite Russia, yet not at all Occidental, the setting is rendered in such loving detail I kept flipping back to read the author's biography to see if she was from this area--and I still wonder since it gives only the scantest detail of her life.

I hesitate to call this "chick-lit," though it bears a resemblance to the realistic and realistically humorous tales of Jennifer Weiner and Marian Keyes, only because the focus is less on Daria's journey than on Charles's opinions of marriage, mail-order brides and how foreigners view the United States. While greatly enjoying Moonlight in Odessa, there are a number of dangling threads Charles introduces out of the blue and/or doesn't tie up by the end of the book. But the writing is brisk and vibrant, and I found this book a quick, snappy read.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Engaging, Surprising, and Wonderful July 17, 2009
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I ordered this book because of ongoing research I'm conducting into Russia, not because of an outright interest in the mail order brides, Odessa, or the daily life of a charming young woman with a bewildering, and deeply funny, series of problems to overcome.

I don't think that I'm this book's target audience (Male, 41, Father, Suburbanite, etc.) And yet, from the first few pages I found myself drawn to Daria's problems. The writer engaged me, making me care about the characters deeply, and when Daria found success, I felt happy for her, When she was betrayed, I felt for her.

I know Daria isn't "real", but there are certainly many people like her. If one of the reasons that you read novels is to step for a time into another person's life, and to gain an understanding of an alternative perspective, then "Moonlight in Odessa" is the book for you.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Loved it! July 16, 2009
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I really enjoyed this novel! It was such a page-turner and I found myself not able to put it down!

Daria is such a well developed character. I actually cared what happened to her, I understood her and I found myself feeling sorry for her. At some points I wanted to shout at the book and tell her what choice to make! I was generally invested in the main character and in her relationships with other characters who were equally as well developed. That, to me, is the mark of a good novel.

The book itself is beautifully written, and is so descriptive of life in Odessa, but not to the point of being melodramatic or boring. I really enjoyed this novel and finished it in two days, unable to put it down. I'd recommend it to anyone!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book! June 26, 2009
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I really enjoyed this book and was compelled to read it in one afternoon. I thought the main character was very likable and I was genuinely interested in what happened to her as the book went on. I loved reading about life in Odessa. I did find the plot a little unbelievable; it was at times hard for me to imagine such an intelligent woman winding up in such a situation- but maybe that just illustrates how determined women are to achieve better lives for themselves. While the ending was very hopeful for Daria, I liked that everything was not wrapped up with a bow. To me, there were elements of "Pride in Prejudice" with the whole things are not what they seem premise.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Or, you may overlook what you have before you while you are gazing at the stars. This is precisely what happens to the protagonist of "Moonlight in Odessa."

Living in Odessa, Ukraine, Daria is an educated woman who dreams of moving to the United States. Employed by an Israeli shipping firm as a secretary, Daria actually functions as a liaison between her boss, David Harmon, and the intricacies of the local business, mob, and government entities. Initially, David is portrayed as a man more interested in sex than business; he eventually proves his friendship and, in the end, his love for Daria.

In order to supplement her income and to practice her English, Daria also works as an interpreter for a matchmaking agency where lonely American men can meet Odessan women. Daria begins an e-mail correspondence with Tristain, one of the men who is using the matchmaking service. The two eventually marry, but Daria learns that all is not as she was led to believe. Only after reclaiming her self-worth and acknowledging her mistakes does Daria find what she has been seeking - the freedoms America has to offer and the love of a good man (David).

While portions of "Moonlight in Odessa" are filled with wry humor and gentle wit, the book does not have a light theme. Rather, it is filled with the choices people make to gain what they wish for and with the consequences of those choices. In particular, I found the second half of the book oppressive in nature. I was distressed by Daria's restrictive and unhappy marriage to a controlling, insecure man. If you have known anyone or have been someone who has been in a similar situation, you will find yourself tensing up throughout that portion of the novel.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars What a lot of kvetching
Moan, whimper, complain. My family background is Ukrainian and now I understand their dark, grumpy vision of the world. Come into the light, Carol Ann!
Published 11 months ago by Debbie Pauley
5.0 out of 5 stars A Good Read
This book was finely crafted and very well written. It was fun to read and I learned a few things about what living in Russia today is like and the difficulties faced as a new... Read more
Published 12 months ago by William Troutman
5.0 out of 5 stars Total and unexpected enjoyment!!!
As a former resident of Odessa I spent about half of my life in Odessa and half - in the US. I picked this book by accident in the local library, not knowing anything about the... Read more
Published 15 months ago by babush5
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful read--especially if you have been in Odessa
I read this on my return from Odessa and although it is a novel and stretches the truth where necessary to the story, it also has a huge amount of believability based on what we... Read more
Published 18 months ago by PETERIV
5.0 out of 5 stars Reading and loving it
Picked up this book from a used books store and can't put it down. It is so funny and so real - I was convinced the author is Ukrainian! Read more
Published 19 months ago by cadeli
3.0 out of 5 stars nice
nice but no more then that so not much to writ home about in general and no much excitment there
Published 20 months ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars One of my favorites
I loved this book. As someone born in Ukraine and immigrated to United States, I can tell the author paints a very honest and detailed picture of both cultures. Read more
Published 22 months ago by Alina Rubin
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Book -- a must read for anyone interested in learning more...
Moonlight in Odessa is a funny, tragic, and very believable novel about the life of a young woman in Odessa who gets involved in helping other women find stability through marriage... Read more
Published 23 months ago by Kristin Louise Duncombe
4.0 out of 5 stars Slow to start, but well worth the read.
This one took a little while to get going. Setting up the story took quite a bit. But once the story got going I really did enjoy it. Read more
Published on July 19, 2012 by Jennifer
5.0 out of 5 stars Unexpectedly good
NOTE: I received this book for free from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers Program.

I was really impressed by this book. Read more
Published on May 21, 2012 by Nora
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More About the Author

Janet Skeslien Charles grew up on the plains of Montana. She spent two years in Odessa, Ukraine, as a Soros Teaching Fellow. She taught English, French, and Creative writing for fifteen years, first in Ukraine, then in Montana, and finally in France.
'Moonlight in Odessa' is her first novel. It was chosen as a top ten debut novel by Publishers Weekly and as book of the month by National Geographic Traveler magazine.


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