Kristin Harmel returns to the blog with a story of magic, possibilities and hope with
The Forest of Vanishing Stars
Having read a few books from this author, I was intrigued by her spin on the facts of a story and the presentation that is reminiscent of a fairy tale to tell a story of hope and survival for victims of the German forces during World War II. If you’ve ever read a fairy tale in its more original form, you will see that in early days when storytelling was a way of passing information and history along, it was also used as a tool to warn children (and others) against the dangers that were out there. Using a combination of actual danger, life skills and a rather intriguing start – we jump into the story.
Yona was born to well-to-do German parents, but was stolen from them as a toddler, and raised in the forests with Jerusza, the woman who ‘sees’ things and believes that Yona was destined for a higher purpose. Years pass and Yona learns how to survive in the forests, different languages and above all, how to move invisibly and without detection. When Jerusza dies some 20 years later, Yona is on her own but not helpless. And with the war on, her skills will become invaluable to someone, not just herself. Soon she stumbles upon a group of Polish Jews, refugees from the Germans and hiding for their own survival. While we intermix the religious overtones and rights and wrongs, we also see the skills of Yona that allow these people to survive against the odds, and with the challenges of weather, rough conditions and the need to learn everything to survive in an instant.
Harmel’s use of the research she did before penning the novel, combined with the natural interplay of personalities that we meet, seeing the challenges both self-inflicted and from the war, and even the choices being made that paint every person in a shade of grey – never wholly good or bad, make for a gripping story and the overlay of magical thinking as a holdover from Jerusza’s years of influence on a young Yona allow the story to dance with the despair, but never quite dip fully in, allowing readers to feel the hope and cheer on those simply looking to survive. While it was heavier in its religious overtones, the questions that everyone must ask in their own review of history and the events that lead to absolute power plays, genocide and the ‘us versus them’ mentality are present and allow readers to enjoy while having plenty to think about after the last page. A favorite for the unique perspectives, the historic facts and the general sense of hope that is provided to the characters and readers, the story is sure to be a favorite of many while allowing new knowledge of war and the human spirit to thrive.