Praise & Reviews of Moonlight in Odessa

In Moonlight in Odessa, the first novel by Janet Skeslien Charles, 23-year-old Daria has an engineering degree, perfect English, and even more perfect cheekbones. Floored by Ukraine’s post-perestroika economy, she takes a job as a secretary at the Odessa branch of an Israeli logistics company – and soon finds that her boss is chief among her unwelcome suitors. To deflect his advances, Daria sets him up with her busty, bottle-blonde neighbour, Olga – and then moves into professional matchmaking, moonlighting as an interpreter for Soviet Unions™, a dating agency that facilitates hasty, long-distance matches between lustful American men and impoverished Ukrainian women. The book is a real treat: vividly told, wickedly funny and brave enough to confront the clichés and misinformation that still abound about life on both sides of the old iron curtain.”

Laura Barnett in The Guardian

Daria is a beautiful Ukrainian girl trying to scratch a living in Odessa. She has perfect English and a degree in engineering, but when she is offered a coveted job with a foreign company there is a catch. Daria’s boss, Mr Harmon, expects to sleep with her. Should she turn him down? “I didn’t want to end up like my girlfriends, with no choices and no money.” He fixes her teeth and showers her with gifts, until she manages to fend him off with her friend Olga. But Daria isn’t immune to the temptations of the West when she moonlights as a translator at a dating agency. This is a witty, bittersweet, unexpected look at the world of mail-order brides.”

Kate Saunders in The Times

Daria, the gutsy heroine of Charles’s first novel, speaks impeccable English and earns 10 times the pay of the average Ukrainian citizen by working as a secretary for an Israeli import firm. But she feels frustrated in her native Odessa, a city encumbered by everything from mobsters to a pre-perestroikan electrical system, and she’s tempted by the lure of America, a place where all her troubles will surely disappear. It’s no surprise, then, that when Daria moonlights at an international matchmaking agency (called Soviet Unions) she falls for one of the company’s clients. And it’s even less of a surprise that as a new bride in California, she soon discovers that her husband — and life in suburban America — can be mind-numbingly dull. “There was always water and electricity,” she complains. “The computer always worked,” but “sometimes it felt dead here, as though I was living in a cemetery.” To survive, Daria resorts to the old Odessan custom of telling half-truths, which, she reasons, are “better than no truth at all.” Rising above its chick-lit trappings, Charles’s novel probes her narrator’s painful discoveries. “Sometimes,” Daria wryly observes, “we want so desperately to believe that we swallow lies without chewing them over.”

Sarah Fay for The New York Times’ Fiction Chronicle

One woman navigates the corruption, controversy, and moral ambiguities of Ukraine’s darkest port city in Moonlight in Odessa. Odessa, a beautiful, deadly seaport in Ukraine, is the setting of Janet Skeslien Charles’ debut novel and serves as the ballast to a plot that spins pleasingly out of control as it winds its way across countries and cultures. Daria, the whip-smart narrator, leads an engrossing tour of the collisions and collusions of money, sex, power, and romance she encounters—both in her job under a Western boss and in her foray as purveyor and participant in the world of email-order brides. While Daria identifies with the desperation of Ukrainian women to escape the host of financial and cultural burdens they shoulder, she also slowly becomes aware of the stifling and often abusive arrangements the service actually perpetuates. The choices she faces as she decides whether to become the bride of a Western man or stay with a compelling but dangerous suitor in Odessa form the central conflict, but it is Charles’ moving exploration of the intricate sacrifices of male-female relationships that resonates as the novel’s emotional core.”

Bust Magazine

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

This is a delicious novel—wise, witty, wonderfully written—and its narrator—street-smart, tender-hearted Daria—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

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

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

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…”


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. 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.”

Anton Gil, author of Art Lover: A Biography of Peggy Guggenheim

Janet Skeslien Charles renders her Odessan heroine with humor, spunk, sophistication and a ‘can-do’ attitude that lands her in the country—if not in the arms of the man—of her dreams. A delightful journey from post-Soviet Ukraine to the world of rural suburban California and a vivid glimpse into the lives of ‘email order’ brides. All we need now is the film!”

Tim Ryback, author of Hitler’s Personal Library

Moonlight in Odessa is a funny, poignant, remarkable debut novel about love in our 21st Century, an international bridge between Martin Amis’s Money and Sex and the City. With her sophisticated wry humor and insightful prose, Janet Skeslien Charles is an artist to watch and an author to read.”

James Grady, author of Six Days of the Condor

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

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.”