Summary and book reviews of The Forest of Vanishing Stars by Kristin Harmel

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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Book Summary

The New York Times bestselling author of the "heart-stopping tale of survival and heroism" (People) The Book of Lost Names returns with an evocative coming-of-age World War II story about a young woman who uses her knowledge of the wilderness to help Jewish refugees escape the Nazis—until a secret from her past threatens everything.

After being stolen from her wealthy German parents and raised in the unforgiving wilderness of eastern Europe, a young woman finds herself alone in 1941 after her kidnapper dies. Her solitary existence is interrupted, however, when she happens upon a group of Jews fleeing the Nazi terror. Stunned to learn what's happening in the outside world, she vows to teach the group all she can about surviving in the forest—and in turn, they teach her some surprising lessons about opening her heart after years of isolation. But when she is betrayed and escapes into a German-occupied village, her past and present come together in a shocking collision that could change everything.

Inspired by incredible true stories of survival against staggering odds, and suffused with the journey-from-the-wilderness elements that made Where the Crawdads Sing a worldwide phenomenon, The Forest of Vanishing Stars is a heart-wrenching and suspenseful novel from the #1 internationally bestselling author whose writing has been hailed as "sweeping and magnificent" (Fiona Davis, New York Times bestselling author), "immersive and evocative" (Publishers Weekly), and "gripping" (Tampa Bay Times).

CHAPTER ONE
1922

The old woman watched from the shadows outside Behaimstrasse 72, waiting for the lights inside to blink out. The apartment's balcony dripped with crimson roses, and ivy climbed the iron rails, but the young couple who lived there—the power-hungry Siegfried Jüttner and his aloof wife, Alwine—weren't the ones who tended the plants. That was left to their maid, for the nurturing of life was something only those with some goodness could do.

The old woman had been watching the Jüttners for nearly two years now, and she knew things about them, things that were important to the task she was about to undertake.

She knew, for example, that Herr Jüttner had been one of the first men in Berlin to join the National Socialist German Workers' Party, a new political movement that was slowly gaining a foothold in the war-shattered country. She knew he'd been inspired to do so while on holiday in Munich nearly three years earlier, after seeing an angry ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Chapter 1 introduces readers to Jerusza and reveals her eccentric backstory. Why do you think the author opens the novel in this way? How does it frame your understanding of the narrative and of Yona and Jerusza as characters?
  2. Discuss Jerusza's decision to steal Yona, a well-cared-for little girl, from her comfortable home and normal childhood and turn her into a "desperate, hungry warrior" (page 234) who didn't know what it was like to connect with another human being until she reached adulthood. Was this fair to Yona, who was never given the chance to choose between Jerusza and a life with her parents, who despite their major flaws, may have loved her? Do you believe, as Jerusza does, that Yona is better off with her in the wild than ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The story is told in such an interesting and unique way. Avid readers should read it for that reason alone. Kristin Harmel has made my list of favorite authors. I'm looking forward to her next book! (Maureen M). Beautifully written, well researched and inspired by incredible true stories. A great addition to my Holocaust library and highly recommended (Esther L). 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 than I was expecting (Stephanie Z)...continued

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Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Harmel returns with a powerful account of a young woman's efforts during WWII to teach Jews how to survive in the forests of Eastern Europe...the author impresses with descriptions of how Yona and the refugees survive. Harmel's stirring adventure will captivate readers.

Author Blurb Kelly Rimmer, New York Times bestselling author of The Warsaw Orphan
Fascinating, meticulously researched and utterly unique...Kristin Harmel is an extraordinary storyteller and this book is another stunning example of her remarkable ability to bring characters to life.

Author Blurb Marie Benedict, New York Times bestsellng author of The Mystery of Mrs. Christie
In this always compelling, sometimes harrowing tale, The Forest of Vanishing Stars draws readers into a singular story of survival and bravery. Set against the backdrop of Eastern Europe during World War II, the resourceful Yona, forced to become expert in the ways of the forest when a sage, prescient elderly woman takes Yona from her German family, must decide whether she'll rise up to claim the destiny foretold about her when faced with a band of Jewish refugees hiding in her beloved woods. Inspiring and gripping.

Author Blurb Patti Callahan, NYT bestselling author of Becoming Mrs. Lewis and Surviving Savannah
Kristin Harmel is a master at spectacularly immersive historical fiction. The Forest of Vanishing Stars adeptly invites us into the dense and foreboding forests of Poland where groups of Jewish families hide to survive the horrors of WWII. Kidnapped as a toddler by a wizened-woman, a young girl, Yona guides us through this extraordinary novel with both her untamed naivety and her hard-won wisdom. The old woman has prepared Yona for these days of war, and Yona must decide if she will step into her destiny. A tale of family, of identity and of becoming who we are meant to be through both the darkness and the light. From the stunning opening to the soul-mending conclusion, The Forest of Vanishing Stars faces head on the questions of fate and free-will entwined like the forest's vines. With immaculate and in-depth research, Harmel reveals the profound secrets of the forest and unveils the whispers of nature that both challenge and save her intimately drawn characters. Harmel reminds us that we are part of something so much larger than ourselves. With stunning lines you will want to savor and share, The Forest of Vanishing Stars is a powerful and compelling masterpiece, a significant story for our present time.

Author Blurb Heather Webb, USA Today bestselling author of The Next Ship Home
The Forest of Vanishing Stars is a riveting story of a Jewish encampment hidden from Nazis by the shelter of thick forests that would ultimately be their salvation. Kristin Harmel's deeply affecting tale of survival and love begs the questions of the true definition of family, and also who we become as people in the face of danger—courageous or cowardly, a revenge-seeker or one who can forgive? With breathtaking natural descriptions, vivid historical details, and a brave heroine worth cheering for who must fulfill a destiny prophesied since birth, this novel is not to be missed!

Reader Reviews

Jeon kanak

A woman raised by her kidnapper
Well, I am more likely to read romance novels, but this one changed my mind; I truly loved it. It's really written beautifully about the girl who gets kidnapped and raised by her kidnapper. It's something new. But I still want to know about how she ...   Read More
Elizabeth@Silver'sReviews

Another FIVE star but very heartbreaking gem from Kristin Harmel
Yona was kidnapped out of her crib at a very young age and forced to live in the forest with a woman named Jerusza. Jerusza felt it her duty to take Yona from her German parents. Yona knew nothing other than living off the land, surviving in the...   Read More
anita

never expected to like to it until........
I really got into the book and could not put it down. My resistance was...oh no another war book. But this was different and Yona proved to be an incredible character. A different take on the war presented by a most unusual woman who could and ...   Read More
Betty Taylor

Captivating Story
I love Ms. Harmel’s books and think this may be her best so far. Her newest book is a story of hope, courage, bravery, survival, and love. It is also a story of determining who we are inside and how to become that person. Yona was born to a German...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

The Bielski Partisans

Black and white photo of a group of Bielski resistance fighters holding gunsIn The Forest of Vanishing Stars, persecuted Jews in Eastern Europe take shelter in the Naliboki Forest, located west of Minsk in contemporary Belarus. The area, then known as Byelorussia, was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1939 at the same time as Germany invaded Poland as part of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact that established a non-aggression agreement between Germany and the Soviet Union, and detailed how Finland, Poland, Romania and the Baltic states would be divided between them. In June 1941, Germany broke the treaty and invaded the western territories of the Soviet Union including Byelorussia (i.e. the Eastern Front, from the European perspective). It held the region until the USSR took back control in August 1944.

In crafting this...

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More books by Kristin Harmel

If you liked The Forest of Vanishing Stars, try these:

  • The Book of Lost Names jacket

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    Inspired by an astonishing true story from World War II, a young woman with a talent for forgery helps hundreds of Jewish children flee the Nazis in this unforgettable historical novel from the New York Times bestselling author of the "epic and heart-wrenching World War II tale" (Alyson Noel, #1 New York Times bestselling author) The Winemaker's ...

  • The Winemaker's Wife jacket

    The Winemaker's Wife

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    Published 2020

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    A moving story set amid the champagne vineyards of northern France during the darkest days of World War II.

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