The Forest of Vanishing Stars by American author Kristin Harmel is a well-crafted gripping and moving historical fiction novel.
In 1922, eighty-two-year-old Jerusza lives in the immense forest of Poland. She begins to have visions and hears voices telling her of a child, she finds two-year-old Yona and kidnaps her from wealthy German parents.
She believes Yona is meant for a higher purpose and the only way she can do this is for her to keep her safe and lead her toward the path she was intended for.
For twenty years Jerusza taught Yona how to survive in the forest. Not only educating her on useful resources it had to offer, such as shelter, livelihood, water, food, and security but also her mind. The old woman would steal books, and teach Yona concepts and processes with a focus on different languages.
She knew there would come a time when she would no longer be around and wanted the girl to self-sustained as possible.
The old woman dies in 1941, leaving Yona all alone until she has an encounter with some Polish Jews. They have fled to the forest escaping Nazis in fear of being killed. Yona knows the forest can be cruel through brutal winters, predators, unsafe trails, and toxic plants. Although Jerusza told her not to trust anyone she feels this may be her calling to help.
As Yona teaches them the way of the forest the Jews don’t trust her completely, risks of hiding changed the nature of even the closest and most trusted relationships. It was a matter of survival for all, especially for Yona being so innocent and now being a part of social interactions and the compliance of rules.
The Forest of Vanishing Stars gives the reader just enough information about each character to ignite curiosity and increase the urge to read further. Each character suffers from their own loss, anger, and heartache, but all relate to each other in one way or another. I connected with Yona as a person and felt great anguish with her as she learns who she is and what has happened to her, her continued development as a character only made me root for her more.
Historical fiction intrigues me and just when I thought I have read enough novels set during WWII, I encounter something hauntingly different. Dark and delicious with a transcendental feel is how I would describe this book. The fact that this was based on a true story made it extra fascinating and the ending so satisfying.
I can’t imagine how anyone could have endured such an ordeal during such a horrid time in history, it makes you feel a wide range of emotions. I had to reread some paragraphs more than once and had to keep reminding myself that this really happened to real people. The Nazi regime was one of the darkest moments in history and this book reminds us that it should not be forgotten.
I felt the focus of the narrative is to remind readers that there are horrors of war we cannot escape. And there are also acts of compassion and courage that are just as significant. It is a story of love, hope, courage, fear, and anguish as they try to make sense of the present and the past.
Author Kristin Harmel has given readers an incredible story right from the start, expertly weaving fact with fiction, leaving readers with an intriguing tale in which it is easy to become immersed. Kristin did extensive research with notes at the end that include just enough historical background on true events to place the story within the context and pique the reader’s interest.
It is sobering to learn about the horrors that the survivors endured. This story is both moving and frightening. It offers a different perspective on the lives of those who suffered the Nazi occupation of their country during World War II. I highly recommend this book.
A selection of our members are reading The Forest of Vanishing Stars by Kristin Harmel. You can read their reviews below, or add your own comments.
My love of books started at a very young age. My mum has always been a reader and encouraged me to read, buying me endless book from classic fairy tales advancing to the world of Enid Blyton, CS Lewis, Louisa May Alcott, Kathryn Kenny, Carolyn Keene, Francine Pascal. In my adult years the list of authors is endless and every room in my house is filled with books.
One of my favourite novels is Narnia which has always has a special place in my heart. I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes in 1978 and when I was given this book to read it let me escape to another world where I felt like I was in the book with all the characters, it wasfun and exciting to escape from reality and eased the ups and downs of the disease at such a young age.
In books nothing is impossible and there is endless potential and hundreds of places to explore or being taken to places that are only made up from the authors’ great minds, the past and future to navigate, characters lives you step into taking you on an emotional rollercoaster ride or being scared out of your wits. I can experience things that I can’t in real life because they’re not possible or real. It challenges my perspective and mindset expanding my worldview.
I find joy, comfort and peace with books, many people may not get it, but I know bookworms like me truly understand. Reading makes my heart happy.