Daria loves the city of Odessa in her home country of the Ukraine. The history of the city, the architecture, and the food. But she’s a highly educated engineer unable to find a job in her field, so she’s stuck working as a secretary for an Israeli import business, dodging the advances of both her own boss and the boss of the local mob. She takes on a second job translating for an online dating agency that matches Ukrainian women with American men. Soon she gets swept up in the idea of escaping to America, where she could actually work as an engineer and get treated like a queen by a man who won’t drink too much or keep mistresses or leave her. But will the reality of America match her dreams? And will living there ever be able to compare to her life in Odessa?
Confession. I have a thing for mail order bride / arranged marriage stories. I also have a thing for watching reality tv shows about marriages that will inevitably be trainwrecks (I’m looking at you, 90 Day Fiance). I was expecting this book to basically be the equivalent of 90 Day Fiance only on paper. Delightful, yet trashy. What I found was a book that was indeed truly delightful, but that also brought a realistic, humanizing face to modern day marriages that are not for love.
The book lingers in Odessa much longer than I was initially expecting, and I’m so glad it did. This gives a firm basis for who Daria is before she comes to America and really puts the reader in her shoes. The author clearly has a love for and strong knowledge of Odessa, Ukrainian culture, and the Russian language. Within just a few pages, it immediately becomes clear that Daria is whip-smart. Her understanding of the ins and outs of both English and Russian are amazing. She is witty, and it’s easy to see how she would have succeeded in any life circumstance. But it also quickly becomes apparent that although she loves Odessa, it doesn’t let her truly grow into who she wants to be. Every life experience she has had has taught her that Odessan/Ukrainian men will only use her and leave her, and she wants a lifetime partner and commitment. Similarly, she can’t use her engineering degree in Odessa, due to the economy, and she wants to live someplace where she can. The clear and slow unveiling of these conjoining life situations helps the reader to come to understand why she is willing to have a business-style marriage, rather than a love marriage. The American man she meets needs a wife, and she needs a life partner and a ticket to a better life.
Of course, not all is as it seems with the American man. The second half of the book dives into life in America for Daria and depicts the harsh realities of using a business-style marriage to immigrate. Even if her marriage had been perfect (which wow it isn’t), Daria still suffers culture-shock and the realization that America is definitely not perfect. There are pros and cons to living anywhere in the world.
Although her marriage is on the worse side of the arranged marriage bell curve, the author still shows the variety of marriages that can result from this type of arrangement by having Daria naturally seek out other women who came to America in similar ways. She thus meets women in both better and worse marriages than her own, and so the reader sees how, although it can possibly work out, the whole situation is ripe for abuse. For instance, if a marriage that included a K1 visa (bringing a non-US citizen into the US) is dissolved within 3 years then the spouse who was brought over on the K1 visa loses their citizenship. This means that women in these types of marriages are afraid to leave abusive situations because they believe that they will automatically be deported. There are exceptions for cases of abuse, but the women often do not know that, and the men in these situations often threaten the women with deportation. This information is all given within the book with subtlety and within the context of what will Daria do now, which lends a human face to the situation.
Given how interesting and realistic most of the book was, I must admit that I felt the end of the book went a bit soap opera, and the ending in general left me wanting. I can’t put my finger on what exactly about it left me feeling as if the story was incomplete, but it did. I don’t have any regrets about reading the book, though, because I so enjoyed seeing the world through Daria’s eyes.
Overall, anyone who enjoys contemporary fiction and is interested in either the Ukraine or the modern day “mail order bride” as done through online agencies will enjoy this book. The main character is rich and well-rounded and brings a human face to the often underrepresented immigrant side of the K1 visa story.
4 out of 5 stars
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