Set in Ukraine after the German invasion of World War II, this historical novel charts the dangerous mission undertaken by two young boys recruited by the underground opposition.
First-time author Noble begins the story with a nervous Ukraine waiting for the imminent invasion of brutal Nazi forces. Terrified by the ferocity with which the Germans conquered Poland, the Ukrainian population stockpiles supplies but also preemptively plots its resistance. The underground opposition group, however, is stymied by the fact that its short-wave radio is in need of repairs, and the necessary parts can only be supplied by the Russian navy. Two young boys, Victor and Shura, are recruited to make the treacherous journey across most of southern Ukraine, crossing the Severksy Donets River behind enemy lines—a stretch of approximately 850 kilometers in no more than six weeks. They encounter one peril after another, including two aggressively amorous female sergeants in the Russian army. Then, of course, they have to make it back. The two chosen youngsters make for an odd pair; Shura is quiet and thoughtful, serious and earnest. Victor, on the other hand, is impetuous and brash; he burns down a German warehouse and stalks the streets looking for Germans with a Lugar he lifted from an enemy assassin he killed. Much of the narrative focuses not only on their mission but also the unlikely friendship that evolves between them under the pressurized circumstances. The impetus of the mission—parts for the broken radio—seems a bit contrived; is this really the best available means to repair a short-wave radio? Also, the prose, especially the dialogue, can be halting. Two German soldiers, after inspecting the boys’ papers, exclaim: “These papers look as if they are alright. They have all the correct stamps and signatures. Let them go, we will be nice and not kill them!”
A historically astute novel that’s more edifying than suspenseful.