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The Forest of Vanishing Stars

A Novel

by Kristin Harmel

The Forest of Vanishing Stars by Kristin Harmel X
The Forest of Vanishing Stars by Kristin Harmel
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  • Published:
    Jul 2021, 384 pages


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There are currently 26 reader reviews for The Forest of Vanishing Stars
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Jan B. (Driggs, ID)

The Forest of Vanishing Stars by Kristin Harmel
This story starts with a young toddler being stolen in the midst of the night, and who then grows up in the forests of Poland with an older woman who is wise in the ways of the forest and who protects and teaches the girl, Yona.

I have spent a large amount of my life living in forests, and one of the things that struck me is how the author gave credence to the knowing, the intuition, that springs from such time mostly alone and living there. This is huge in this story, as the holocaust is happening and many are fleeing to the forests, not knowing how to survive. This is about Yona, an innocent in the world of people, and her intersection with them during one of the most horrific periods of history. Group dynamics, especially in the case of survival is very tough. And here is where Yona meets and talks to other people for the first time, lives with others for the first time, falls in love, and takes on the responsibility for all of them as they hide in the forest.

The author does very well with the deep thinking and the process that Yona goes through. The different characters and groups, are very vivid and real, as is Yona's deep inner thinking and processing.

This was a non-stopper of a read for me. I really liked it and read it in two sittings holding my attention the whole time. I liked that this story came from the hiding in the forests, and that it mostly stayed there as the central place of the story.
Mary F. (Lewes, DE)

"Survival against the odds"
The perspective of this WWII themed novel is original and well researched with a variety of characters from a range of backgrounds, religious beliefs, and national ideals. The desperation, the spirit and bonding of a group of hunted Jews in a hostile primal forest environment, where the mass of foliage sometimes erases the stars, feels real. The survival experiment is led by Yona, an unusual adolescent female, abducted and raised without family or social ties, who seeks to overcome her personal fears and deal with a series of relationships. Her resilience and leadership instincts lead to a story line with twists and turns which engage the reader. The "Author's Note", at the end of the novel, was the clincher, giving further meaning to a book with diverse themes that will stimulate and enhance discussions of another Kristin Harmel hit.
Maribeth R. (Indianapolis, IN)

A Story of Complex Themes
This beautifully written story by Kristin Harmel was complex. At times it seems almost like a fairy tale as the story unfolds about the main character, Yona, and how she entered into the mysteries of the forest. At other times, I was taken back to the stories of Jean Auel in the Clan of the Cave Bear as characters learned to understand the gifts the forest could give. And though this was another story about WWII, this book does not focus on life and death in the camps. Instead, Harmel reminds us of other brave souls who vanished into the European forests, linking their survival to the trust they placed in others, and to how the will to survive creates extraordinary strength and perseverance. The characters were so powerful that it will be a long time before I forget them. If the book has a failing, I would say that some events are contrived in a way that they are not believable. However, the strength in the story lies in its ability to wrap you in the arms of the trees in the forest, and to once again remind us of the extraordinary bravery exemplified by those who fought to escape the violence of the Nazi regime. Thank you for the opportunity to read this wonderful book.
Stephanie Z. (Mount Pleasant, SC)

Masterful, Immersive Experience of WWII from a New Perspective
I had read and appreciated three earlier books by Kristin Harmel so I was expecting to also enjoy this book. However, The Forest of Vanishing Stars is so, so much more; a more immersive and consuming read, a can't-put-it-down personal discovery story, a primer on survival in the forest, and a totally new take on a strong female protagonist in a time of war. With this new book Kristin has outdone herself from a research perspective. Not only was she required to write convincingly about survival in the Eastern European forests through each season over multiple years, but she also had to cover a vast array of religious, linguistic, historical and self-defense knowledge since Yona, the protagonist, had such a wide and varied education. Kristin also created an interesting group of characters of many ages and backgrounds to give readers a sense of how devastating these times were to the Eastern European people who experienced them. This is a book that asks deep personal questions about what constitutes family, how one defines their own religiosity, and what love and betrayal look like to one who hasn't experienced either previously. I highly recommend this book for readers who enjoy historical fiction, who want to learn more about WWII from a new perspective, and those who enjoy strong female lead characters.
Leisure Reader and Librarian

Rediscovering a story
A compelling read, The Forest of Vanishing Stars is an amalgamation of a World War II adventure story, historical saga, and survival tale. Based loosely on the true stories of the Jewish refugees and partisans who hid in the forests of Poland, Harmel weaves additional details of forest life and other historical details with Yona's story. Yona is a singular main character. She is both the guide and sometime leader of the refugees, and her story is the mystery at the center of the novel. Be sure to read the author's notes at the end of the book.
Robert C. (Corpus Christi, TX)

The Forest of Vanishing Stars
I enjoy reading historical fiction. The resistance during WWII is particularly interesting to me, and this book checks all the boxes. The storyline has enough surprises to keep it interesting. The heroine (Yona) was stolen from her parents as a young child. She was raised in the forest by the woman who took her and taught her to be self-sufficient.
If you enjoyed The Book of Lost Names you will enjoy this story also. I found the use of second sight or premonition added an element of mysticism. You will meet Jewish people that have fled from the Polish ghettos who are devout to their faith, and Christians who worship Jesus. But there is a universal God influencing the story. One example is when Yona says to Alexsander, I helped your group learn to survive. How can you expect me not to help others?
Although Yona is a strong character, I found her overly sentimental when she met people from the "outside". Otherwise, it was a good story.
Donna C. (Cary, NC)

The Forest of Vanishing Stars
he first few pages of this book made me nervous about my ability to connect with the story. It's very spiritual/mystical, which is not something I ever seek out in picking up a book. I'm happy to say that for the most part, once the main character Yona is left on her own, and begins to help the Jewish families learn to live in the forest (as a way to escape death by the Nazis), my interest was piqued. I absolutely loved the descriptions of how they survived in the forest. The people who end up following Yona know very few survival skills before taking this last resort to avoid death. I was completely captivated by how she taught them to make shelters, procure food, for not only immediate use, but to survive the dreadfully cold winters. There was an element of suspense created when the camp had to keep moving so that they would not be found by the Germans, who roamed the forest on the lookout for them. This book definitely brought up a gamut of emotions. I was sad, angry, frightened, hopeful, and dejected throughout various scenes. I wasn't a big fan of the spirituality, as I am not really a believer, but I do understand that for the time period in the book, faith played a big part in people's lives. Of course there was, as I like to call it, the obligatory romance, which was not my favorite part, but it was well done and tolerable to me. It is well worth it to read the author's notes at the end of the book, where she delves into the actual history the book is based on.
Virginia M. (San Antonio, TX)

One of the Heroines of the WWII
My favorite kind of book is historical fiction. Therefore, I have read lots of novels about the Nazi treatment of Jewish people during WWII; however, this is one is quite unique, and I really enjoyed it. In it an old woman sneaks in the Berlin apartment of young Nazi and his wife and steals their 2-year-old child. We are told that the identity of the baby is quite distinguishable due to a dove shaped birthmark and the color of her mismatched eyes -one is blue and the other is green.

The old woman names the child Yona and raises her in the woods teaching her how to survive in the wilderness: how to find food, how to treat illnesses and how to kill if it became necessary. She also teaches her about God, traditional Jewish customs and a variety of languages including Yiddish.

Then some 20 years later, Yona becomes instrumental in helping various Jewish people in their escape from the Nazi soldiers when she finds them in the woods. In this way, Yona is able to help many people survive the horrors of the mass murders of the Jewish people – but, of course, the number of people she is able to save is just miniscule compared to those who are brutally killed by the soldiers.
I enjoy imagining why publishers choose certain phrases to use in the titles of the books I read. There is one a paragraph in this book where the lives of various Jewish people are compared to the bright stars in the galaxy which are blotted out by the dark clouds of universe.

Even though this is a record of a very dark period of history, the author's writing style made the book easy to read and remarkably interesting. Further, in some small ways, this book reminded me of both the Sound of Music and Where the Crawdads Sing.

I certainly would recommend it.

Beyond the Book:
  The Bielski Partisans

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