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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  • First Published:
    Jul 2021, 384 pages

    May 2022, 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).


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 will 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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BookBrowse Review


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

Although Kristin Harmel's The Forest of Vanishing Stars is fiction, the bestselling author's research contributes richness and authenticity to this captivating tale...In addition to showcasing her exceptional historical research, Harmel's novel explores the frailty of human connection.

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 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!

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.

Reader Reviews

Tony C.

Could Be The Best of the Bunch
“The Forest of Vanishing Stars” by Kristen Harmel recommends itself to fans of “The Tattooist of Auschwitz” and “Where the Crawdads Sing.” I had my skepticism, but that same book is killing it. I have read many slavery/Reconstruction novels and ...   Read More
Yuki Nakamoto

Could not put this book down
I loved this book. It's not the kind of thing that I normally read but it was recommended by a friend. Once I started, I hesitated to stop. I bought the audio version. I replay sections often to hear the language, which sounds so strange to me, over ...   Read More
Cindy Roesel

Story of survival
Bestselling author, Kristin Harmel shares another message of hope within the darkness of WWII in her new novel, The Forest of Vanishing Stars (GalleryBooks). "The forest knew no difference between race, religion or gender." In 1922, ...   Read More
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

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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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