Monday, November 22, 2010
Moonlight in Odessa
I was fortunate enough to receive Moonlight in Odessa, as an Early Reviewer copy through librarything.com. (thank you, librarything!)
Daria, a 23 year old woman, is the main character and narrator. Ukrainian, she lives in Odessa with her grandmother. Educated as an engineer, she is an office assistant with a shipping firm, scrambling to eke out an existence with severe economic challenges in the Ukraine. To make more money, she takes a second job with Soviet Unions (get it?), a matchmaking firm pairing American men with Ukrainian women.
Daria has learned to navigate the sometimes seedy underworld that comprises daily life in Odessa, including bribing officials and dealing with mobsters. She is invaluable to her boss at the shipping firm, but wants more for her life. As she works with the matchmaking firm, she explores possibilities for love for herself, including coming to the U.S. to be with an American man who turns out to be less than he claimed to be in his communications with her.
One thing that bugged me about the story was Daria and cooking. In the beginning of the book, Daria has never cooked. Her Boba (grandmother) cooked for her growing up. Cooking in Odessa is revered and is a sign of love for friends and family members. Later in the book, Daria learns a certain kind of cooking (not Odessan cooking which is elaborate), instead she learns bland, low fat, chicken in broth and steamed vegetables kind of cooking. Then a few months later in the story she makes an amazing Odessan feast for her friends and neighbors, and every dish is phenomenal, which seemed a little unrealistic to me. Then, a month or so later, she meets someone who will show her how to bake. Does she know how to cook or not?
One thing the author did that I really liked and thought was effective was how different English verbs and their tenses came into Daria's mind when she was experiencing feelings...
"He was just like other men, only with shinier teeth and fancy cologne. We stared at each other. The only sound in the office was the ticking of a clock. Weep-wept-wept. Win-won-won. Withdraw-withdrew-withdrawn."
A lot of the book has Daria (and many others in Odessa), longing for ease in life in America. Consequently, there are many comparisons and descriptions of the differences between Ukrainian life (and Ukrainians) and American life (and Americans)...
"I ran to the self-help section. (In Ukraine, we weren't big on self-help. People depended on fate or the State to help them.) Americans were very much into self-serve, self-medication, and self-help: the ultimate do-it-yourselfers. Americans were all part-time pharmacists. They knew exactly which medication to take for any ailment. They found answers in books. Look at Tristan. Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus had clearly helped him. I found titles like Closing the Deal; The Rules; Men are like Waffles, Women are like Spaghetti, and then I found a book entitled Ten Stupid Things Women Do to Mess Up Their Lives. I looked at the table of contents and found that I had committed a completely different ten. So many books were aimed at getting a man. What I needed was a book entitled Catch and Release; Put Him Back in the Sea Painlessly and Effortlessly. No such luck."
The book concluded with a tidy ending (which I don't always like). However, I did like that Moonlight in Odessa introduced me to a world that was unfamiliar to me, and used it to contrast it with life in the U.S. The author clearly loves Odessa, and even though there may have been a few too many mentionings of the wonderfulness of Odessa, it was delightful to read about Daria and a place that is clearly dear to the author's heart.
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