From the book cover: 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, 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.
I was rather pulled in by this book from the start. Daria was an engaging character, and the kind of girl I’d like to be friends with. Which made reading about her life and choices kind of difficult, I think I often would have had the same reaction to her that her American friend Jane had. I just felt so deeply for Daria, wanting the best for her, that I almost felt protective of her.
Daria is a non-native English speaker, so there are little parts in the book where she conjugates words in English, such as “swim, swam, swum”. I found myself doing this in my actual life, in my head anyway, because it was just so charming! It’s the kind of thing I never think about in my own language, and realistically it’s probably good to get me thinking about the different forms of our words.
I think the biggest thing about this book that spoke to me was that although Daria is from the Ukraine and is looking for a better life, this is kind of a comment on the life of a woman in general. Daria comes to America expecting a perfect, magical life, and it just doesn’t happen that way. But if you think about the problems she has throughout the book, they aren’t exactly things that are unique to the fact that she’s not from the US.
If you look at the book from a woman’s point of view, many of us have the same concerns and problems that Daria has. Obviously, she has the added complication of relying on her link to the states, Tristan, to be able to stay here. But otherwise, don’t we all feel a little like we have to stay with a man to survive?
Women in America are in a better position than we’ve ever been, but we still face plenty of struggles that men will never know. We often make less money than our male colleagues and partners, have fewer advantages simply because of our gender, yet we’re expected to run our households and raise our families. The attitude of the average man has improved, I’ll give you that, but it’s not uncommon to find a man who really expects everything at home to be handed to him by his wife.
Am I generalizing? Absolutely. I know there are also plenty of really great men out there. But I have lived in the United States my whole life and the only time I’ve ever felt like I wasn’t required to live up to the expectations of the men in my life was…when I moved to a place where there were no men in my life. I think all you need to be able to see the sadness in Daria’s life and feel sympathy for her is look at your own past and reflect on how the men in your life have made you feel. If you can look back and don’t understand where Daria is coming from, please count your blessings.
I had a hard time reading about Daria’s life with Tristan, just because I understand that feeling of thinking you’re trapped. Not knowing how to get out, forge your own life. I feel fortunate that I’ve been able to do that, and I hope that other women who feel that way are able to do the same thing.
This is the sort of book I think I would have read in one sitting if I’d had time to do so, and I also feel like I’ll be coming back to it for rereads in the future. I hope the author writes a sequel to this book, because I’d really like to see what the future holds for Daria. Like I said, she feels like a friend, and who doesn’t want to stay caught up with their friends?
Read this book if: You’re interested in a sweet character story, and a lovely romantic look at the Ukraine at the same time. About half of this book takes place in America, but the rest is in the Ukraine, and I absolutely loved hearing about a place I knew virtually nothing about.