cover image The Forest of Vanishing Stars

The Forest of Vanishing Stars

Kristin Harmel. Gallery, $28 (384p) ISBN 978-1-982158-93-4

Harmel (The Book of Lost Names) 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. In 1922, Yona, born Inge Jüttner, was kidnapped at age two by Jerusza, a clairvoyant forest dweller who felt compelled to save the child from her German parents, whom Jerusza later says were “bad people.” Jerusza hides Yona in the Nalibocka Forest and, as she grows up, teaches her survival skills. In 1942, after Jerusza dies, Yona encounters a group of Jewish refugees in the woods and shows them how to evade the Nazis and survive the harsh winters. But after a romantic betrayal, Yona leaves them, and in a village she meets a group of nuns targeted for execution by the Nazis. She appeals to the Nazi leader, whose face is instantly familiar to her, to stop, then is ordered to remain with him. After Yona learns of an imminent forest raid, she escapes and rejoins the refugees, guiding them deeper into the forest. With the Nazis tracking them, the narrative culminates in a terrifying climax. Along the way, the author impresses with descriptions of how Yona and the refugees survive. Harmel’s stirring adventure will captivate readers. Agent: Holly Root, Root Literary. (July)