The Forest of Vanishing Stars is the second Kristin Harmel World War II book I have read this year. I enjoyed this much more than I did The Book of Lost Names.
Jerusza is an 82-year-old Jewish woman, who has a mystical sixth sense. She believes she has been led to Berlin to steal the 2-year-old daughter of Siegfried and Alwine Juttner. She takes the toddler deep into the forest and renames her Yona, which means Dove in Hebrew. Over the next 20 years, Jerusza teaches Yona how to survive in the forest. She also teaches Yona several languages but keeps her isolated from the rest of the world. It is a lonely existence for the young girl because Jerusza is not loving or maternal. Just before Jerusza dies in 1942, she tells Yona about her real parents, who are evil people. She insists that Yona will only be safe if she is alone in the forest since there is a war raging outside its protection.
Yona comes across several groups of Jews who have escaped ghettos and are trying to survive in the forest. Dangers from the environment, lack of food, Russian defectors, and patrolling Nazis are ever-present. Yona, who longs for a community, offers to help teach her survival skills. Against everything Jerusza warned her about, Yona begins to live with one group. Over the next three years, the group will enlarge and shrink. Yona struggles with a sense of belonging and how she fits in with this Jewish community. While she is sincere in her desire to help, she is often treated as an outsider. Some mistrust her while others praise her more than their Jewish leader. Then one breaks her heart, sending her on a collision course with her long-lost father.
This is a story about endurance, resilience, family, and trust. It is about choosing goodness and kindness in a world full of darkness and evil. And is also about learning to love when everything around you seems hopeless.
5-Stars. Book Club Recommended. I found this well-researched novel to be informative and inspiring.
I was fortunate to win an advanced reader copy in a Goodreads giveaway. Thank you to Gallery Books! This book will be published on Tuesday, July 6, 2021.