"It is the autumn of 1940, one years into the German occupation of Poland. In a small mining village in Upper Silesia, Gracian Sofka is fifteen years old. The past year he has been risking his skin, making expeditions into the forest after curfew to gaze at the stars. y the time six months have passed, Gracian will have journeyed twice more into the forest, the German army will be on the French Atlantic coast, the constellations will have followed their secret paths across the universe, and Pawel, Gracian's beloved elder brother, will be dead."
Jay Basu's first novel is set in 1940 during the German occupation, in a Polish mining village in the bitterly contested region of Silesia. The viewpoint is that of 15-year-old Gracian Sofka. The story begins as he watches his elder brother Pawel sleeping, and then slips out of the house into the dark of the forest, when, after curfew, there is the desperate danger of German patrols. But he feels he must reach his viewing place, where he gazes at the constellations, 'the universe gathered between treetops'. Written in a pure, simple style, with fresh phrasing and imagery, the story slowly unfolds. Pawel leads a life of mystery and danger about which no-one speaks, certainly not their embittered mother, who often risks everything, journeying with Gracian to her old country home in order to smuggle back items of food secreted about her person. Gracian's job at the railway station is to steer her as far from the eyes of the German guards as possible. The atmosphere of rumour, fear and suspicion is as thick as the black coal-dust which surrounds Gracian as he labours deep down in the (re-named) Colliery Richler, far from the magical beauty of the moving stars. He half-listens to rambling stories of their village as it was before, told by his older partner Dylong, who calls him 'Galileo'. Pawel comes and goes, but not to work - he has made his choices. Finally, hearing of work at a more distant colliery, he takes Gracian, who can speak German, to translate for him at the job interview with the foreman. There, Gracian learns some disturbing details about Pawel's past. Throughout the book Pawel's secret life, kindness to his brother (he gives Gracian a book on astronomy and even a mysteriously obtained telescope) and relationship with his beloved Anna Maleswska dominate Gracian's thoughts. Suspense mounts. No-one will give Gracina any clues about Pawel, until one night he uses his telescope turned to the earth for once and follows his brother into the forest. In the opening pages of the book we learn that in six months Pawel will no longer be alive. Anticipating his death, and the manner of it, makes the story throb with tension. (Kirkus UK)