The Forest of Vanishing Stars: A Novel
by Kristin Harmel
Hardcover- $18.15

Indie Next List pick for July 2021 * Parade “Best Books of Summer” pick * Real Simple summer reading pick * SheReads “Best WWII ...

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  "Excellent analysis of the victims of the Holocaust." by thewanderingjew (see profile) 09/02/21

The Forest of Vanishing Stars, Kristin Harmel, author; Madeleine Maby, narrator
Jerusza is in the eighth decade of her life. It is 1922. She is in Berlin. All of her life she has listened to the voices in her head, advising her and warning her of events to take place. If she isn’t unstable, she seems to have the gift of second sight. She has been told to take a two year old child, named Inge and raise her in the forest. Her parents are not good people. She steals the child from her bedroom and brings her deep into the forest. She changes the child’s name from Inge to Yona, meaning dove. Yona has the birthmark of a dove on her wrist. A dove is the symbol of peace. She demands that Yona obey her unconditionally and as the years pass, she makes her promise to always remain in the forest to be safe. She knows that terrible things are coming, but she insists that the forest will provide for her and protect her. She provides Yona with books, teaches her to speak several languages, and how to survive in the forest. She teaches her about the secrets of the foods in the forest, how to heal, hunt, fish and kill. She can sustain herself totally without any contact with the outside world. She teaches her about Jewish culture, but does not say if she is Jewish. Yona does not identify as anything specific. She does not know if she belongs anyplace else but alone in the forest. After two decades, Jerusza dies at the ripe old age of 102. Yona is alone. She grows curious about her background. Who were her parents? She sets out to find out if she was ever loved. She disobeys Jerusza. As she travels through the forest, she meets people and discovers the feeling of both belonging and loneliness. She also discovers that some people do not trust her, and she does not understand why. Often, she too feels the gift of second sight and can anticipate coming danger. Is she a witch?
Yona finds that she cannot walk away from those in need, and often, there is danger. She discovers love and loyalty and their opposites. The old woman had cautioned her about human emotions and attachments, but she no longer adheres to her rules. She discovers secrets which shake her to her very foundation. She feels guilt and confusion. She and Jerusza moved often and interacted with no one. She has no place she calls home or people she identifies with as family, but everyone demands to know to whom or what she belongs. Some people need her to identify herself more fully, but she cannot. She doesn’t understand why it is important. If you trust her, what difference does it make. The very essence of Hitler’s theories about Jews are contradicted by that simple question. If you respect her as a Christian, if she is compassionate and heroic, if she saves your life, when you find out she is not one of you, not a Jew, perhaps not a Christian, why should you not respect her still? Why should she suddenly be untrustworthy and threatening. She learns that hate is taught and sometimes cannot be reversed. She learns that some people are unkind and jealous. She learns that some people are disloyal.
This book is unique in its analysis of the characters. Their loss and their grief, their guilt and their shame, their specific identity and feelings of loyalty to their own kind is presented through the eyes of a child brought up outside of civilization, belonging to no one in particular and having no particular identity of her own. As she searches for it, she encounters real love for the first time. She had experienced anger occasionally from Jerusza, but never deceit. The world around her, often confounded her. She had been untouched by society’s ills because she was protected by the forest. For her, there were simple truths. Was she Jewish? Did it matter? Was she good? Were her actions harmful? Was she a threat? Was she helping or hurting the individuals she met? Sometimes the outcome of her intervention was not what she expected.
If the person you are with is a good person, someone you respect, isn’t that person the same regardless of their religion, sexual preference, color? If you find her identity is not what you thought, has she changed or have you? Is she not the same good person? If you reject a person based on their identity, are you not then becoming the image of your enemy, the same one who wants to destroy you because of the identity they attribute to you? The tragedies and secrets revealed in the novel are both touching and shocking. To whom do we owe allegiance? Is it possible to sacrifice oneself willingly for the greater good or is something else driving heroes? Is it vengeance? The history is carefully adhered to, but the use of the supernatural voices that advised Yona and Jerusza sometimes stretched credulity.
Much has been written about the horrors of the Holocaust and the murder of millions of innocents during World War II. It was a war started by Hitler. The Germans and the Axis powers who supported the violence and barbarism, turned a blind eye to the horror, brutality, death and destruction for their own personal gain. It will forever be an indelible stain on our history because the depth of man’s inhumanity to man was beyond the belief of most normal people. There is no analysis that can find a legitimate way to excuse or even understand the mindset that overtook the leaders of a part of the world with a kind of mob hysteria, allowing even their citizens to turn a blind eye to the torture and murder of a monumental number of blameless victims. Millions of people are not here today because of the Holocaust horror. Families were robbed of their history, their homes and their heritage. The world was robbed of the genius of these people and their contributions. This book exposes the hypocrisy of those involved. Shame on all of them.

  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 11/29/21

  "" by KM (see profile) 11/26/22

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