Moonlight in Odessa by Janet Skeslien Charles begins in Odessa, Ukraine. Daria, who has a degree in mechanical engineering is working in the only job she could find as a secretary to a leering, harassing man. Daria lives with her grandmother in the cramped one room apartment and dreams of love with a faithful man, unlike her grandfather and father who left and disappeared. To supplement their meager income and build more security, Daria begins a second job with "Soviet Unions" which sets up American men with Odessan women. Daria, who speaks flawless English works as a translator but is soon swept up in the ideas and dreams of America. She begins writing to her own American who eventually whisks her away to California to begin the perfect life.
Having just finished a book that I loved, I didn't expect to be impressed by Moonlight in Odesssa. However, I found the story to be immediately engaging. The character of Daria was very well developed and likable. She is a smart girl trying to survive and improve her situation in the rough years of transition following the fall of the Soviet Union. She uses her brains to outwit the lecherous men yet her heart is tender and she dreams of being loved and having a family.
The city of Odessa on the coast of the Black Sea is an interesting setting. The Soviet Union and communism have crumbled leaving the pensioners nearly penniless and the government corrupt. Electricity, water and telephone service are less than reliable and the mobsters run the city. The economy is crumbling. Even so, the city is beautiful. The people are cultured and educated. This setting is fascinating.
The scenes in America cause some embarrassment because they are resoundingly real. Daria is amazed at the casualness of Americans, the sloppy language and the indifference to geography--most people in the small town where she lives continue to think she is Russian and constantly mispronounce her name.
This story is delightful and painful and sweet. It's enlightening and tender. It's well written and clearly the author understands both cultures and is in tune with human nature and desires. There are only a few instances of crude language and sexual situations. Over all it is very good.
I won a copy of Moonlight in Odessa on goodreads.com back in September and I just got around to reading it this week. The opinions expressed are my own and no other compensation was given for this review.