In 1922, Jerusza, an old woman, kidnaps 2-year-old Inge Jüttner from her home in Berlin. The woman is a Jewish mystic and believes she must rescue the child and prepare her for a higher purpose. The girl, now named Yona, is raised by Jerusza in a large, dense forest in Poland. Jerusza provides a thorough education for Yona, which includes teaching her many languages, religion and survivals skills. In 1942, as Jerusza is dying, she reveals the names of Yona’s parents and her true identity. Now alone, Yona not only has to survive but is shocked to learn that outside the forest she was raised in, madness has taken place. Nazis have overtaken Poland and Jews are being murdered.
The book starts off in a fantastical manner, which paves the way for a very touching story. The Forest of Vanishing Stars was inspired by the brave partisan fighters who hid large numbers of Jewish refugees in the Nalibocka (now Naliboki) Forest. In this fictional story, Yona helps a small group hide in the forest against incredible odds. Comprised of people who have experienced unimaginable loss, they form a family-like bond as they work to survive. Yona, who must deal with the guilt of her true identity, is eventually confronted by her past.
Author Kristen Harmel shines a light on acts of courage and heroism during World War II in an unlikely place – deep in the forest. The true-life partisan group, led by the Bielski Brothers, is featured in the book and served as inspiration. (The 2008 film Defiance, starring Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber, tells their incredible story.)
Many thanks to Gallery Books / Simon & Schuster and NetGalley for the opportunity to read this moving book, from a favorite author, in advance of its publication date.
Rated 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Publication Date: July 6, 2021.
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