Author: Jay Basu
Reviewer: Vera Omwocha
Available at: AMAZON
Extent: 177 pages
I find humility in the beauty of the skies; of the stars. I picked this book because of the ‘stars’ in it, or the stars I hoped it had to offer.
Gracian is a 15-year-old boy living in German occupied Poland in 1940. To survive the turbulent times working at coal mine, he goes out in the night after the curfew to gaze at the stars. When his mysterious brother Pawel corners him, he warns him against it, “This hobby of yours is not worth your life or mother’s happiness. The stars can wait, boy – that’s all they ever do”
Perhaps as a compensation and out of love, Pawel gifts Gracian a telescope with which he can view the stars from his room. Although it is dangerous for the villagers to be out in the forest as they could be killed by the German police guarding the border, Gracian discovers that his brother goes into the forest. Gracian is tired of not knowing the past and the life of his brother. He knows he cannot hear it from hs family and so he seeks the truth from Dylong, the old dissilusioned miner. Dylong becomes Gracian’s window into the past, their past but the boy is not satisfied. He follows Pawel deep into the forest and unknowingly catalyses a tragedy.
In the end, Gracian realises that ‘the stars would wait, wait and watch, but no longer would he watch them. For his life was not theirs, and his flesh was not that of gas and fire.”
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He buries his telescope and gives up stargazing. The heart-breaking ending hallmarks this family’s fate in dealing with the effects of the 2nd World War: Sometimes hope is too far for human hands to reach it.
Although this book lacks in the plot, the language and narration is rich and the prose lyrical with a metaphorical depth.
This is a tale of war, loss, lack, pain, death, family and relationships.
Quotes from the book:
“For what is crime but a darkened reflection of laws made to choke a man? And it’s always the young who get chocked first.”
“Men whose business is deception often betray each other.”
“When guilt is serious it grows in stages, like winter. First is the creeping ground frost, spreading out across the mind yet leaving the space still for old roots of doubt and debate to breathe, and with them the seeds of absolution.”
“This is a time of choices, brother,” Pawel said. “Anna made hers, and I made mine. We made our choices together. That is all we have in this world. We live by choices, and we die by them.”
“He stretched his hands then, out of the open window, reached them out toward the stars. Among them, he knew, there was never loneliness, for they had known nothing but solitude. No time, for they had known nothing but the slow burn of millennia. No happiness and no sadness and no responsibility, for they had known nothing but silence.”
“And the trouble with decisions is that no matter how hard you try to keep them separate, to make space for them and then go on as before, they will always break free. And nothing is as it was. Like water in a leaking bucket – a tiny leak you thought impossible, that you thought you had patched – old decisions will find ways to trickle out and ruin everything. No matter how hard I’ve tried, it always happens.”
“When a man does not have structure, Galileo, his confidence in himself fades and falters. Each one of us needs a frame to hang ourselves upon, a frame of principles and notions and actions which we believe in. Otherwise, we are simply baggy skins, empty ghosts of people.”
The trouble with families,” he said slowly, with care, “is that sometimes they try to bind themselves so tight they become blind with the effort of it, and then the blindness infects them and threatens everything they once were or might be. I do not know if a family in this blind state can ever find cure. I think blindness is usually permanent.”