"Moonlight in Odessa" was one of those books that I was hesitant to pick up at first because I wasn't sure that a book about the Ukraine would interest me. Then I remembered that it won the Melissa Nathan award for Comedy Romance and that piqued my interest. When I finally picked it up and gave it a chance, I found that it was nearly impossible to put down!
In "Moonlight...," Janet Skeslien Charles introduces us to Daria, a young woman living in Odessa, Ukraine with her grandmother and working as a secretary because engineering jobs (for which she obtained a degree) were scarce and even more impossible for women to obtain. Her boss' first demand is that she sleep with him, leading to a lot of interesting scenarios and some crazy decisions on Daria's end. To supplement her income, she moonlights as an English translator for a matchmaking company that pairs American men with Ukrainian women. Soon she realizes what America has to offer in comparison with Odessa and gives in when presented with the opportunity to enjoy the American dream. However, the opportunity comes with a few challenges and more decisions that she is forced to face.
I really enjoyed "Moonlight in Odessa." Daria was very easy for me to relate to, not only because she was Jewish, but because she was down-to-earth and non-pretentious. She spoke her mind and displayed her tough side, but also allowed me to see her vulnerabilities. I liked that Ms. Charles fit in some history lessons without interrupting the flow of the story. It was interesting how she painted America and Odessa as contrasts of one another. Her characters were very colorful and interesting and I love how Daria interacted with them, allowing me to see their relationships take a natural course throughout the novel.
The one thing that threw me off a bit was that I was expecting more of a laugh-out-loud comedic approach, but most of the story was a bit dark in nature. There were some times when I did burst out laughing, but not as often as in novels that I pegged as overly humorous. This could be due to the fact that comedy overseas is different than comedy in the US. (I don't get the humor in most British shows, so that could be a cultural difference.) It could also be that Ms. Charles intended it as more of a dark comedy with some subtle humor. I guess everyone's interpretation of humor is different. I know she mentioned a few times that Odessa was the humor capital of the world, but I didn't get the jokes that were being made.
Overall, I thought this was an excellent piece of literary fiction and it reminded me of a cross between novels from Jennifer Weiner and Marian Keyes. I hope Ms. Charles will continue to produce such fantastic work in the future and I know I'll be the first to read it when she does!