Counting Lost Stars: A Novel

Written by Kim van Alkemade
Review by Linda Harris Sittig

This dual-time novel starts in 1960 New York City when aspiring college student Rita Klein finds herself pregnant. Sent to a home for unwed mothers, she is pressured into giving up her baby for adoption, then struggles with the guilt. A few weeks later she meets a young man, Jacob Nassy, who is also struggling with guilt from being separated from his mother in a Holocaust concentration camp as a child.

The story then switches to 1941 Holland. Young Cornelia Vogel is working as a punch card operator for the Ministry of Information, as the Nazis have started a census of all Dutch citizens. Cornelia soon learns the object of the census is to identify all Jewish citizens for deportation to labor camps. The machine she uses is the Hollerith – which will become the precursor to the computer technology that Rita Klein will study in college. And Cornelia cannot quit her job because of her father’s position in the Ministry.

As the novel progresses, going back and forth through the two time periods, the two women’s lives eventually converge in an unexpected way. Rita attempts to use computer technology to try and discover what happened to Jacob’s mother but needs the old punch cards saved by Cornelia to obtain the data she needs.

This novel is well-paced, and the characters are very believable. Although the details are disturbing, I appreciated learning about how punch cards were used by the Nazis in WWII to track Jewish citizens. I did not find anything in the writing of this story that would have improved it. Highly recommended.