Hotel Moscow by Talia Carner ill serves the thousands of courageous Eastern European and Western women who serve in, and benefit from, the support of NGO’s—-non-governmental organizations bringing aid, training and spiritual support to post-Soviet states. It was disturbing to see the very well-portrayed narcissism of the main character attributed as an issue among children of Holocaust survivors. The gangsterism motif and chick- flick-style romance running through the story becomes tedious, although the pace does pick up after the first fifty pages.
Hotel Moscow is basically a novel about a naive Western business woman volunteering to coach women with emerging businesses in Moscow as Perestroika dawns. The main character lacks the discretion essential for volunteers working with NGOs, and so ends up encountering Moscow thugs who are taking Mafioso advantage of women striving to develop healthy businesses. Sexual aggression, torture, and destruction of hard-earned business property while graphically described, often seem inauthentic, as though imagined rather than researched. All combine to create a profound sense of distaste in this reader, as I have served safely as a volunteer with non-profits throughout much of the former Soviet Union. I find it hard to envision an NGO that would send volunteers over there without effective briefings and extensive protection.
What Hotel Moscow does begin to capture is the beauty of how woman-to-woman support and caring so readily transcends nationality.To be fair to the author, competing forces and strategies for survival do make individual choices difficult given the pioneering conditions. It’s difficult for even the most experienced NGO staff to completely avoid having their spirits, time and resources sometimes being exploited by clients for inappropriate ends. It takes many years of visiting a different culture to sufficiently grasp the nuances of the peoples’ responses and circumstances and to become truly effective. Judgments made by those bringing Western norms and values into their work early in a program can, in retrospect, seem stunningly off-base after spending a serious spate of time in the host cultures of the many ethnic, racial, religious and ideological groups across the former Soviet Union.
I have seen groups such as Project Kesher, ORT and the Joint Distribution Committee collaborate to assist in more successful entrepreneurial efforts of women in business, education and social justice than could fit in any book. Hotel Moscow exploits the worst that could happen, without ever revealing the tremendous accomplishments of NGOs through out the region, which is very unfortunate.