Yona, born Inge, doesn’t remember much about her parents or the world outside the forest. The day before her second birthday, Yona was stolen from her German parents by an elderly Jewish woman named Jerusza. Jerusza was driven by intuition; she knew she must take the girl from her family and into the forest.
Yona’s childhood is unconventional, as she learns not only survival skills but also multiple languages. Jerusza’s care is practical, never maternal. The girl doesn’t know love, but she knows how to survive.
Not long after Jerusza’s death, Yona encounters other people in the forest. They’re Jewish, and they’ve fled their villages to escape persecution by the Germans. Yona knows how to help, but by sharing her skills, she’s inviting human connection like she’s never known—and risking her heart in the process.
Although Kristin Harmel’s The Forest of Vanishing Stars is fiction, the bestselling author’s research contributes richness and authenticity to this captivating tale. During the Holocaust, Jewish people escaped from ghettos and created forest settlements, banding together to survive both genocide and the wild.
In addition to showcasing her exceptional historical research, Harmel’s novel explores the frailty of human connection. Yona finds joy and sorrow in bonding with others, and in the process, she learns more about the world she was born into. Yona knows she is German, and as she tries to protect the people she’s met, she begins to question whether she truly belongs in the encampment.
“In the times of greatest darkness, the light always shines through, because there are people who stand up to do brave, decent things,” says one of the men Yona meets in the forest. “In moments like this, it doesn’t matter what you were born to be. It matters what you choose to become.”