Praise for The Stars We Share:
“This compelling debut novel offers rich descriptions [and] . . . plenty to discuss about how world events impact individuals and the sometimes heart-wrenching compromises we must make to find happiness.”
“Posey impresses in his moving debut. . . . Posey displays gifts for crafting realistic dialogue and bringing people and places to life . . . fans of [
All the Light We Cannot See] are likely to be engrossed.”
“Posey’s prose is a joy, evocative and expertly cadenced. . . . [
The Stars We Share] dares to explore, in a hopeful way, the road taken.”
“A silkily written story, deeply personal despite the sweep.”
—Library Journal (named a Best Debut Novel of Spring and Summer 2021)
“A love story at its core,
The Stars We Share explores the layered repercussions of war and secrecy on the bodies and souls of two unforgettable characters. Whether portraying the bewildering map of a star-studded sky, the low whine of an incoming Zero, or the shifting, tender terrain of love and family, Posey’s exquisitely rendered prose dazzles from start to finish.”
—Georgia Hunter, New York Times bestselling author of We Were the Lucky Ones
“Rafe Posey’s impressive debut,
The Stars We Share, takes us deep into a relationship between childhood sweethearts tested time and again by war, secrets, and their own humanity. Nuanced, insightful, and beautifully written, the story unsentimentally documents June and Alec as they struggle to remain true to each other and to themselves while forging a better life. This is one of the most accomplished first novels you’ll read this year.”
—Mark Sullivan, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Beneath a Scarlet Sky
“A gripping, tender, and sparkling debut—with impeccable research and exquisite prose, Posey weaves a story of love and loss before, during, and after the Second World War. A beguiling, thought-provoking, and ultimately satisfying novel.”
—Susan Elia MacNeal, Edgar-nominated author of the New York Times bestselling Maggie Hope series
“A moving exploration of the love between Alec and June, who find themselves in danger of being torn apart by war. Posey observes their secrets and their struggles with a keen and sensitive eye. The writing is tremendous, at once evocative and precise, the ending deeply touching.”
—Frances Liardet, New York Times bestselling author of We Must Be Brave
The Stars We Share is an absolutely captivating debut that’s equally suspenseful, sweet, lush, and propulsive. It’s the best book I’ve read in quite a while.”
—J. Ryan Stradal, New York Times bestselling author of Kitchens of the Great Midwest
The Stars We Share is a beautifully rendered story, tender and true, that gets to the heart of what it means—and what it costs—to love a person in this imperfect world of ours, and to be loved in return. An evocative and stunning debut.”
—Susan Meissner, bestselling author of The Nature of Fragile Things
“Gorgeously written and impeccably researched
, The Stars We Share is by turns a love story, a coming-of-age story, and ultimately a gripping story of the secrets people keep and the toll they take on a family. I loved this utterly engaging, beautiful, and heartbreaking novel.”
—Jillian Cantor, bestselling author of Half Life
“Written with the mythical grandeur of Isak Dinesen,
The Stars We Share is a lyrical meditation about how two people born for each other can be torn asunder by war, the corrosive power of secrets, and the divisiveness of individual desires. Posey has created vivid, sensitive characters, a wholly believable twentieth-century Great Britain, and a tale you won’t soon forget. A beautiful, heartrending read.”
—Jennie Fields, author of Atomic Love
1927, RMS Jaipur
Quiet, then, on the decks at night. Alec Oswin plays balancing games on the broad planks outside his cabin, always aware of the vibrations of the ship wallowing through the water like a great steel ox, carving its way west and north and west again. England feels like the invention of a cruel older child, and he had not wanted to go. His parents had friends around the garrison who spoke of England as a lost paradise, cursing the dense humidity and the fevers and the fecundity of the mud in India, and his mother had always nodded politely. But later, when her friends had gone, she would bundle herself around Alec where he lay half asleep beneath a mosquito net. Together they would whisper stories back and forth, listening to the sounds of the night.
The creaks and groans of the ship''s night sounds are a world away from what he wants. Alec closes his eyes, the stars unfolding above the ship. In his trunk, tucked close under the edge of his bunk, there is almost nothing: four sets of clothes picked out by his uncle; a picture of his parents, younger and golden with affection; a small steel box full of his mother''s jewelry and his father''s medals and buttons. In his memory, Alec carries his mother''s voice, which tells him stories in the gloaming or from books now lost in the chaos of his leaving.
Sometimes in the night the sea comes up and reminds them all where they are, and how small they are. Most nights the ship feels as safe as houses (although in Alec''s experience, a house is no more safe than anywhere else), and sometimes it feels like a wad of paper bobbing in a river. But tonight is quiet. Tonight if Alec closes his eyes and ignores the lapping of the waves against the hull, he can imagine the stars singing. He sits with his back to a lifeboat mount and watches the sky. He has not yet learned all the constellations, although he knows the Great Bear, and the north star Polaris, and the Saptarshi, who inhabit the heavens and mark the bounds of the Great Bear''s shape. He knows swans and hunters and fallen heroes.
Years ago, his father had given him a notebook with a soft leather cover that curled at the edges, and on that stiff white paper he draws the stars. They might be the same in the English sky, but he isn''t sure. Alec is no longer sure of anything, and the stars are as close as he can get to fact. The stars, he feels certain, will not lie to him.
The stars are what he has now.
So he draws Polaris and the Bear, and then everything else outward. His mother called Polaris her lodestar, a word he will always trust. The sky doesn''t change much from night to night-black indigo and the dots of impossible brightness chasing across it. Maybe it''s Heaven up there, if the Right Reverend Mr. Hume and the congregation in Bombay could be believed. Alec is not convinced, although he needs to believe in Heaven because otherwise, where are his parents?
Somewhere belowdecks his uncle Roger is playing cards, and probably losing badly. Alec''s father made excuses for his friend''s gambling and drinking; they had served together from the first Somme onward, and so Martin Oswin knew Roger better than almost anyone. Alec''s mother insisted that her younger brother was merely misunderstood. But now Uncle Roger is charged with escorting Alec to his aunt, somewhere in the east of England, a country as distant and unlikely as the stars Alec can''t yet name.
On the third night out of Bombay the wind strikes sideways at the ship. Uncle Roger comes into AlecÕs cabin haloed with the juniper scent of gin and tonic and takes the boy back up to the deck with him, his palm cupped around the bony knob of AlecÕs shoulder. Alec hangs back, until he remembers the way the monsoons had shuddered their compound in Bombay, the household relieved by the dance of rain on roof. His uncle leans close, the black sheen of a day''s growth of beard mesmerizing. I miss them, too, he shouts against the noise of the storm. He drops down to sit with his back against a bulkhead and pulls Alec close beside him, unleashing a deep well of sorrow over the loss of his sister and his best friend, all of it half-heard and barely understood. After, Alec''s faith in his uncle has deepened.
Four days later Alec wakes to find his skin aching and tight, his throat clenched and as dry as stones. For a long time he lies in his bunk on fire, awake and asleep blurring together in a series of miserable dreams of the cholera that slashed through their house like a tiger. They were so happy, and then everyone was gone, and Alec had been left alone. In his cabin on the ship, stinking of illness and fear, he is never alone; he is always vaguely aware of his uncle and the shipÕs physician watching him, checking him, laying their big, rough palms against his clammy brow. But sometimes the fever takes him deeper and he believes Mr. Hume is there. Then Alec shouts at him, or at the shapes he imagines are a man. He is too weak to speak the curses the stableboy taught him, but he holds them in his heart for the clergyman who promised him his parents would be in Heaven, when what Alec wants is simply for them to be alive. But Mr. Hume had taken him from the house when everyone else was sick and dying, and his parents had been gone by the time the awful telegram had reached Uncle Roger in Mardan.
The ship has reached the Mediterranean the next time Alec sees the sun. Uncle Roger helps Alec make his way to the deck, the companionways and ladders he had scampered up like a monkey a week before now nearly beyond him. He sits back on his deck chair, enveloped in the bustle of other passengers around him. Alec is eight years old, and he wants his mother''s voice and the light touch of her fingers on the back of his neck. He wants to go home.
There are other boys on board, some who sit quietly with their families or governesses, and some who run wild in a pack in the night. Before the fever, Alec had been tempted to join the wild boys, but he had known that his mother would worry. Would have worried. But now the fever has left him so tired his hair hurts, with aches in every joint, and his chest clatters with loneliness. One evening it gets the best of him and, when he has escaped from the closeness of the dinner service, he makes his way slowly along the passageways and through the hatches until he finds them in the cargo hold, climbing on crates and smoking cigarettes they''ve stolen from someone''s auntie. Their leader, a boy he has heard called Charlie, jumps down fluidly from the crate until they stand face-to-face. Charlie is older, twelve or thirteen, much taller and at least two stone heavier, and he regards Alec with amusement.
"You''ve come to draw us, then?"
The other boys laugh. Alec looks at them all, one by one. If they know he draws, they''ve been watching him. He knows his mother would not want him smoking stolen cigarettes in a cargo hold. But he also knows she would not want him to be so lonely.
"No," he says. But what does he want? He wants his vengeance on the cholera, and on Mr. Hume, and on the whole of the world, for letting all of this happen to him, but there is no way to say that to this confident boy with mussed black hair. "I just wanted to know what else there was to do on the ship."
"Left it a bit late," Charlie says.
"I''ve been ill," Alec says.
"Right," Charlie says. He looks more carefully at Alec, who tries to puff himself taller, despite the fact that his knees feel full of thorns.
Another boy slides to the floor and saunters over. Where Charlie has regarded him with curiosity and reserve, this boy looks at Alec like there''s something wrong with him. Alec meets his eyes, his shoulders back.
The boy jerks his chin upward roughly. "My brother says your uncle is a scoundrel and ought to be whipped."
"That''s not true," Alec retorts. There are a lot of things his uncle does wrong, but if he were actually bad, Alec''s father would have stopped him.
"You''re no better," the boy says.
Alec knows that everything that happens next is wrong, but it is too much, all of it, the emptiness and the losses and the yearning. He looks at Charlie, and looks at the other boy, and at the boys gathering to watch, drawn by the scent of tension and the thrill of accusations, and he wishes he had stayed on deck.
The boys are waiting, all of them, and Alec knows that this is the moment that will determine the rest of his passage from his old life to whatever his new life holds. He opens his mouth, trying not to think of his mother, and utters the most horrible phrase the stableboy taught him, a thick warble of Urdu and loathing.
Charlie smiles. A boy perched on the nearest ladder laughs. And the one who called Uncle Roger a scoundrel blinks.
There are not many more days left before the ship will slide into its berth on the Thames. England is almost upon them. Alec has, as Charlie said, left it a bit late. But the boys accept him, the newest and smallest dog in their pack. By Gibraltar, the pain in his bones has receded, and he has learned how to stampede through the lounges or along the decks without letting any of the aunties or governesses grab his ear. He knows he will never see these boys again-that''s what life is, as far as Alec can tell, never seeing anyone again except possibly for Uncle Roger-but it doesn''t matter.
As the ship settles against the dock in London, Uncle Roger tightens his hand around Alec''s. His voice low and quiet against the chaos and press, he asks, "Are you excited about seeing your aunt Constance?"
There is a right answer and a true answer. Alec trusts his uncle with the truth. "No."
Uncle Roger lets his breath out slowly. "Your parents thought this would be best," he says softly. "Safest and best. It''s a thing parents do, sometimes, make an arrangement like this just in case. I expect when they made this plan they didn''t imagine it would ever need to come about."
Alec nods. How impossible and scary would it be, to look at the unthinkable and know what to do in the face of it? How could he have decided who would get his mother, if something had happened to him, instead?
The world smells like water, loamy and dense. Alec lies still in the slanting angle of sunlight that creeps through the curtains, the light too low over the water, the chattering of birds too loud in the sagging hedges that line the lane on the other side of the dark stone wall. He''s been here in Fenbourne for two days. Shipboard feels like a dream, a stack of weeks he almost can''t remember. He had three days in London with Uncle Roger, the city smoking with industry, crowded in a way Alec doesn''t understand. Bombay was full of people too, sometimes so many it felt as though the whole world had come to live in the streets outside the compound, but they were tangible in a way that the London masses are not.
He''s lying in the patch of sun, thinking about the train from London to Ely, and the skyward reach of the old cathedral, when his uncle taps on the door and leans in.
"Time to face the day," he says.
Alec pulls the thick woolen blanket tighter against his chest. He''s not sure the day needs facing, least of all by him. He can smell the English breakfast downstairs, and his treacherous stomach growls. Uncle Roger smiles. Alec pulls the blanket over his face. He wants the echo of the chaiwallah and the bright yellow birds that used to call to him from the moringa trees outside his bedroom window. Not two months before the cholera he had sat in the courtyard of his father''s friend, a merchant who told stories of the gods as if he had been part of them. Alec had rubbed the trunk and knees of an elderly elephant while his mahout told stories of the elephant''s youth and the campaigns they had fought together. India is all Alec knows.
"Alec," his uncle says. "Time to get dressed." He steps into the narrow room and pauses. Alec breathes in the slight mustiness of the blanket. It smells like water, too. The day before they had driven to Ely, the three of them in Aunt Constance''s Rover, and in a shop full of the fug of old cigarettes he had been fitted for what his aunt called "proper clothes." She had bought him a jumper, the drape of its collar soft despite the innate scratchiness of the wool.
"They itch," he says out loud, without meaning to. He means the wool and starched bright cotton of the clothes, but he also means England, and the cottage, and the low gray sky. The truth is that it''s the deep end of autumn outside, and he can tell already that the heavy clothes are better suited to the Fenlands than the flannels he wore in India, even in the cooler climates. He almost smiles, remembering the hill stations in Kashmir, when his father had galloped bareback on his tall black gelding with his collar open, singing songs that made his mother blush. Those summer mornings had made Alec feel as though he was closer to being a man like his father, the pair of them striding the mountains, his mother watching them with a smile, a light shawl bundled up around her shoulders against the faint whisper of a Himalayan breeze.
Uncle Roger sighs. "That they do."
Alec lowers the blanket and looks at his uncle, who is staring out the window, lost somewhere else. Probably India, where he will return after Christmas to rejoin the Guides Cavalry in Mardan. Take me with you, he almost says, but then he thinks of his mother, who wanted him here if he couldn''t be with her. He takes a breath and holds it as long as he can, trying to acclimate himself to a world full of water.