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No One is Here Except All of Us [Hardcover]

Ramona Ausubel
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Feb. 7 2012

In 1939, the families in a remote Jewish village in Romania feel the war close in on them. Their tribe has moved and escaped for thousands of years- across oceans, deserts, and mountains-but now, it seems, there is nowhere else to go. Danger is imminent in every direction, yet the territory of imagination and belief is limitless. At the suggestion of an eleven-year-old girl and a mysterious stranger who has washed up on the riverbank, the villagers decide to reinvent the world: deny any relationship with the known and start over from scratch. Destiny is unwritten. Time and history are forgotten. Jobs, husbands, a child, are reassigned. And for years, there is boundless hope. But the real world continues to unfold alongside the imagined one, eventually overtaking it, and soon our narrator-the girl, grown into a young mother-must flee her village, move from one world to the next, to find her husband and save her children, and propel them toward a real and hopeful future. A beguiling, imaginative, inspiring story about the bigness of being alive as an individual, as a member of a tribe, and as a participant in history, No One Is Here Except All Of Us explores how we use storytelling to survive and shape our own truths. It marks the arrival of a major new literary talent.

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“Fantastical and ambitious . . . infused with faith in the power of storytelling . . . Light and tenderness persevere—in a shining moon, in a candle still aglow, in a mother’s embrace of her child.”—The New York Times Book Review

“Debut novelist Ausubel casts a vibrant, dreamlike spell in this tale of a remote Romanian Village whose citizens try to save themselves from the Holocaust by reinventing their own history.”—Marie Claire
“Romanian Jews in 1939 reinvent their own reality in this inspiring novel about the power of community and imagination.”—O, the Oprah Magazine
“Ramona Ausubel’s debut, No One Is Here Except All of Us captures the magical group-think of a Romanian village that retreats into an imaginary reality at the outbreak of war.”—Vogue

“In her debut novel, No One Is Here Except All of Us, Ramona Ausubel breaks new ground, with a unique prose style that weaves a classic immigrant tale into a world of dreams. The town of Zalischick and its citizens re-write their own story, filling it with magic, hope, and a determination in the face of destruction to find new ways to begin.”—Hannah Tinti, author of The Good Thief
"Here is a world created out of the most curious and beautiful remnants of our own: opera, suitcases, letters, rivers, daughters, strangers and shovels. Ramona Ausubel cracks open the very idea of a book and fills its shell with a thing glimmering, thrilling and new.”—Samantha Hunt, author on The Invention of Everything Else

“A special work of the imagination, an original gift, dark and light, and Ramona Ausubel colors it all with a glowing wisdom.”—Ron Carlson, author of Five Skies

“Beautifully written and alive in story, fascinating characters, and place.  You can't help but compare Ausubel's book with Marquez, with her fantastic vision of history and invention, the small village dreaming the vast world, but she is her own new fresh voice.”—Brad Watson, author of The Heaven of Mercury
“A wise, compassionate book that even in its darkest turns uplifts.”—Christine Schutt, author of Florida and All Souls

"An absorbing and unpredictable novel that manages to encompass a wide geographic and emotional range. . . . Ausubel's original voice combines fresh, clear observation and Old testament grandeur."—The New Yorker

"No One Is Here Except All of Us contains so many achingly beautiful passages, it's as if language itself is continually striving to be a refuge. . . . If a book can be said to have a consciousness, the consciousness here is infinitely tender and soulful, magical and true. It's the kind of God we wish for.”—San Francisco Chronicle

“Ramona Ausubel's first novel, "No One Is Here Except All of Us," is a poetic fable about a part of history after which some people say poetry is an obscenity… Ausubel's fable-like tone is effective in creating a sensation of tale and dream. For conveying the full horror of the events surrounding the Holocaust, it is less so, but this isn't what she's trying to do. Instead, she is comfortable reshaping, in a safe time and place, stories that were handed to her, using her rhetorical and narrative skill to create something that can be carried without cutting the one who carries it.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune

About the Author

Ramona Ausubel is a graduate of the MFA program at the University of California, Irvine. She has been published in The New Yorker, One Story, The Paris Review Daily, and Best American Fantasy. Ausubel is the recipient of the Glenn Schaeffer Award for fiction, and was a finalist for the Pushcart Prize. Shel lives in California. To learn more about Ramona Ausubel, please visit

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts... March 26 2012
By Reader Writer Runner TOP 50 REVIEWER
'"No One is Here Except All of Us"'' opens in 1939 in the isolated Romanian outpost of Zalischik, where nine families, apprised of the war soon to envelop them, decide to reinvent the world. But, as the 11-year-old narrator, Lena, points out, "'[l]iving in the new world would not turn out to be that different from living in the old one."'' Thus, the reinvention ultimately becomes an indulgent game of make-believe.

Ausubel certainly has a striking eye for detail and writes in luminous prose but her characters often behave in ways that are psychologically dubious. Spirited and intelligent Lena, for example, goes willingly when her parents give her away to a childless aunt and uncle and complies when her aunt insists she behave like an infant. She later marries a callow boy incapable of shouldering adult responsibility.

When the war finally invades Zalischik, Ausubel captures the ensuing chaos with piercing lucidity. The narrative then splinters: Lena's husband ends up lazing around Sardinia while Lena herself flees from the village and starves with her two sons as they wander forests and farmland. Eventually, through another betrayal of character, Lena seeks out a second new world in America. On her passage, a fellow Jew informs her that Hitler has killed himself, the camps have been liberated, the war is over. ' 'I don't know what those things are," she admits.Here, Ausubel powerfully proves that Lena is a refugee not just from her family and home, but from the larger calamity of history itself.

As a stylist, Ausubel astounds readers with her ambitious nod both to her family history and to the rich tradition of Jewish fabulists. But her most affecting prose comes not in flights of imagination, but in those passages when her characters confront the crushing power of the real.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars So close to good, so far. Oct. 23 2012
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Sometimes I am guilty of choosing a book for its cover. I know. I know. I'm basically the worst librarian ever. Whatever. I picked up this book not just because of its cover, but because of its name. Pretty cover, cool name, I'll at least give it a shot.

Generally I feel books that cover difficult topics are done great justice when they're told in a storytelling manner. Something about that style makes the books more real, gives them a feeling of being personal and accessible. No One Is Here Except All Of Us explores how we use storytelling to survive and shape our own truths, specifically in relation to one Romanian village in 1939 as they feel the Holocaust close in on them. The villagers re-invent themselves, and where they live, as they themselves say “Dear God, We did not start again because it wasn’t beautiful enough. The world we make will be much smaller and less glorious than the one you made….We are content to accept this small circle of land as our entire universe, so long as we are safe here.”

The thing about this book is there's something in it that I struggle with - and I don't mean that in a good way. One reviewer suggested that the same stories that sustain Lena and the villagers also distance the readers from the full horror of the events leading up to the Holocaust and maybe even the characters themselves. It's a fascinating premise for a book and I really did want to love it but... there is something of a disconnect.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
By fastreader TOP 500 REVIEWER
This review is based on an Uncorrected Proof Version of the book which I received free from the Publisher through the Goodreads First Reads program.

This is the story of a small Jewish village, of approximately 100 people, in Romania who tried to ignore the impeding War from Germany. Can you ignore something into oblivion ?

Can a group of people, who have an absolute belief system, avoid being co-opted into a War that they don't want to participate in ?

I have to admit that I skipped some of the later parts of the book as, while I could associate with what was happening, the viewpoint and perspective was alien to me. I am not Jewish and maybe that's the problem.

I'm not saying that the viewpoint is wrong, certainly not, it's just that 70 years after the fact I just can't relate to it.

I believe that a Jewish person could relate to this book better than me, and I am sure, based on Ramona Ausubels writing style , that they would be entranced with the story.

Overall it in an endearing book.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.7 out of 5 stars  54 reviews
35 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A story that will stay with me Jan. 13 2012
By Julie Lovisa - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
It is the latter years of WWII and a small group of Jewish villagers in Romania decide that they're tired of running away from the destruction around them. A stranger from a decimated town washes up on their river bank and at her suggestion and the suggestion of an 11-year old girl named Lena, they decide to reinvent history and begin their world over again from day one. Husbands and children are reassigned homes and stories are invented to explain their places in the world. Lena becomes a child to two sets of parents, marries, and has children. When the village is finally discovered, her husband is taken prisoner and she decides that it would be safer to set out on her own to search for him than to keep her family there. Lena must endure so much change and loss that it made my heart ache and brought tears to my eyes more than once, but I will let the readers discover her haunting story on their own. Her plaintive refrain is that of, "I almost remember who you are," to all of the people that she loves and must do what she feels is right for them, not necessarily for herself.

This is one of the most poetic books I've read in a very long time. The prose is so ethereal it's almost as if you're reading a dream ... a direct contrast to the reality of the evil things that were occurring during WWII. Lena's story is based on the true story of the author's great-grandmother during WWI and learning that many of the events that took place in the book were actual events added even more weight to it. This is not a feel-good book with an obligatory happy ending; it is a book that lets us know that we are not alone in the world and that sometimes it's okay to shape our own history.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ausubel writes with conviction and wisdom, turning many a lovely and unique phrase Feb. 8 2012
By Bookreporter - Published on
In the small Jewish shtetl of Zalischik, Romania, life is quiet and predictable. The 100 or so residents of the riverside village have their jobs to do: growing cabbage, selling jewelry, keeping track of the money in the bank. But in 1939, after keeping danger at bay for so long, a threat greater than they can imagine is moving closer and closer. One day they hear bombs falling close by, and later a woman they don't know washes up on the shore of the river. The stranger tells them about the violence she witnessed and how her husband and children were murdered and her town destroyed. The people of Zalischik, inspired by the Stranger's story and encouraged by the imagination of an 11-year-old girl named Lena, decide that, to save themselves and find peace, they must build the world anew.

Ramona Ausubel's debut novel, NO ONE IS HERE EXCEPT ALL OF US, is the story of Zalischik, and Lena is the heart of the story. While the world around them rages with war and their people are once again persecuted and terrorized, armed with just a sense of wonder and trust, Zalischik re-creates the world and wakes up to day one. But challenges remain, and Lena symbolizes them all. In order to maintain the illusion they all agree on, Lena's family must give her up. She goes to live with an aunt and uncle where she becomes their baby and grows quickly to a marriageable woman. The Stranger stays in the village listening to the prayers of the residents and reflecting back to them their darkest fears and wildest hopes.

Years pass, but Zalischik cannot keep the outside world at bay forever, and one day Italian soldiers march in and take Lena's husband prisoner. The spell is broken, and the villagers know the make-believe universe they have lived in is no longer safe. Just before the Nazis arrive, Lena sets out with her two young sons, hoping to find her husband (who is the captive of a lonely and strangely kind-hearted jailer on Sardinia) or at least safety. By the end of the novel, characters have scattered across Europe from Italy to Russia and across the sea to America. They are all starting over and dealing with the tragic past, but also finding a glimmer of optimism and perhaps even peace at last.

At every turn Lena's tale is harrowing, heartbreaking and astonishingly written. Ausubel's style is arrestingly beautiful, even as the story is devastatingly sad. Not quite magical realism, it's fantastic in the way of traditional European Jewish folklore where miracles and mysteries balance out pain and sorrow. It's hard to overstate the power of this book, which takes on a familiar subject in a completely original way. Ausubel writes with conviction and wisdom describing Zalischik and the experiences of its inhabitants in a vivid and strong prose that turns many a lovely and unique phrase.

A lyrical and unforgettable novel that will bring on tears of sorrow and beauty, NO ONE IS HERE EXCEPT ALL OF US is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman
15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "No One is Here Except All of Us," writer Romana Ausubel's venture into serious (or unserious) literary territory Feb. 11 2012
By SalParadise - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
In the tradition of Robin Hood and the much more recent "Defiance" ("The Bielski Partisans"), Ramona Ausubel's latest (and first) novel: "No One Is Here Except All Of Us," gives readers a story of heroic peasant alacrity. In this case, the war is World War II, and the peasantry is the resilient and, indeed, defiant peasantry of the underground Jewish people.

There are lots of things to like in Ausubel's novel. Her powers of description and imagery, with which she is perhaps only a bit too ready to impart to readers, churns out such golden nuggets as cheeks, "scrubbed...that look like juicy, pluckable fruit" and skin, "[like] one map divided into three pages," in only the first chapter, with countless more besides. Practical and authentic folk wisdom scatter the pages, and Ausubel displays her supreme talent of simple storytelling in the form of numerous Biblical anecdotes and perpetuating beginnings. The whole story in fact, is one long narrative of beginnings, from the peasants' mental rebirthing of their world, to the rebirths of character the protagonist Lena experiences. It becomes very easy for one to lose count of the number of times "once there was" is repeated. In a world that's described with childish divagations and a life of bucolic, land-tilling provinciality, the affect of perpetuating first-act-Garden of Eden creation is rather sweet. It also provides a suitable summary of the novel itself, which involves the girl, Lena, and her community of Jewish peasants choosing to remake their world in the face of looming world war destruction.

However, Ausubel begins to encounter problems when she seeks to stray beyond these boundaries into the great, gaping unknown of serious literary venture. It's a rather small, or should I say, standard, book at 324 pages, and yet it seeks to encompass the big themes: discovery of self, loss of innocence, mankind's inability to control his fate, etc. The problem though, is not with the book's length but with which these themes go explored, or unexplored. Primarily, the novel deals with 11-year-old protagonist Lena and her search for self. Yet Lena suffers the same malady as the rest of Ausubel's ensemble: she doesn't do anything. The Carthusian motto: Stat crux dum volvitur orbis (The cross is steady while the world is turning) might be a phrase Ausubel, with her hefty Biblical knowledge, is familiar with. It is a phrase that can be applied directly to Lena, who remains implacable, steady, as the world around her revolves and makes her decisions for her.

Lena doing nothing should not be taken literally, of course. The story slowly unwraps itself in a murky, dreamlike and aesthetic text throughout Lena's life in the village, which consists of her being forced to accept not only the remaking of the general world, but also the remaking of her family, who has traded her to her barren aunt and timid uncle. From here, the whole process of remaking expands: Lena is made to start anew in her crying, crawling, drooling years of infancy to appease the ever-accelerating desires of her aunt, who then insists that Lena grow into firm, marriageable, and of course, child-rearing womanhood in a matter of months.

These are absurdly rapid changes which seem to sit well and fine with narrator Lena, but which continually prod at the readers' perception of realism. The whole charade, from the village's acceptance of world rebirth to Lena's achievement of womanhood, feels like one big game of house, and the reader is only waiting for the parents to come outside and scoop the children back up to reality.

This never happens though, and Lena, an inarguably more matured and confident girl after several months (with apparently good, sporting hips) marries, and bears her first child Solomon. Ausubel's sentiment towards the unrealistic and overly romanticized lifestyle is apparent, yet so is the reader's nagging feelings of the whole village as mentally insane and clinically delusional. Surely these people don't actually believe the world has been started over just because they broke a few pots and said so?

Yet they do, for better or for worse, and Ausubel, rather than addressing these problems face-to-face, remedies everything with the same dosage of cloudy prose, cheerful optimism, and a line that becomes increasingly more bromidic as the novel progresses: "I almost remember who you are."

`I almost know who the characters are', might be a good surmise of the audience's feelings towards Ausubel's diverse cast of townspeople, farmers, an effeminate Italian jail-keeper, and the Stranger, a phantom plot-driver who enters into the novel long enough to spur the weary village into action, and then quietly dissolves into forgetfulness. However, except for perhaps the character's names and sexes, nothing about them separates them from one another. They're all the same brand of unabashedly, unquestioning, and unnervingly kind-hearted country-bumpkins. They're an insipid class of people whom Ausubel chooses to be the subjects of her theme; a theme proclaiming that, like God, the collective spirit of the peasant geniality is omniscient and eternal. One can (and does) find friends everywhere.
Certainly it's a nice theme: a heart-string-tugging, Disney-ified, storybook theme that never leads the audience into thinking that any of their characters will be in any real danger or do anything (rather, be made to do anything) that's not strictly speaking perfect.

The love between 15-year-old Lena and 19-year-old husband Igor is flawless. Infanticide, separation, and genocide are all of them weathered with the same token optimism, the same repeated line: "I almost remember who you are." A relationship between Igor and an eventual war captor struts right upon the very definitions of homoeroticism and Stockholm syndrome, yet the relationship never crests beyond the threshold of anything uncomfortable; the boundaries remain suspended in an Hellenic world of perfect Achilles/Patroclus non-sexual camaraderie. A rape is immediately forgiven, and with compassionate prayers. Numerous child trade-offs (which aside from other things, suggest a myopia of historical repetition) reside in hearts as impure, loving, and of course, necessary. Even Lena's great cathartic moment, one of her first true expressions of self, and her subsequent literal baptism into a world that hints at the suggestion of singularity, is tinged with the promise that perfection will pervade, the world of 1940 being, after all, a very fair and un-cruel place, particularly for the wayward Jew. One almost begins to think of the pre-Gandalf days of dear old Bilbo Baggins and his gang of shaggy-haired settlers.

Despite these qualms, Ausubel has accomplished much with her first novel. Her world is unbelievable, but this is not the point she is offering. Like Jane Austen during the time of Napoleonic Wars, she is giving her pacifist people a voice that does not resound with grapeshot or atom bomb. The story after all, Lena never ceases to remind her audience, can always be retold however the teller wants. This is indeed a beautiful, if somewhat lethargic, world of protector/protected relationships and endless compassion, where one can never dwell too long on the hideous past, and where even the dreamily given images of the suicide of die Führer does not sound bleak and macabre at all, but merely out-of-place. Reality is not suspended; it's gone. And in place of its effluvium, there is a dreamscape, surreptitiously and innocuously leading readers and characters down in a forgetful current.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Poetic...VERY well written! Jan. 18 2012
By MommaMia - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
This is one of the most unique and creative books I've read in a while, not to mention the author's writing style is poetic and flowing. The story is fascinating; however, the premise might be a bit hard for a practical minded person to get around. Some people just like their stories more straight forward. This is certainly written as if you were wandering around in a dream state and I know that lots of people are going to love it! To create the world anew! If such a thing were possible!

The author creates a believable world immersed in an unbelievable situation. I was drawn in from the first page. The characters were well developed and a pleasure to get to know. This author is certainly going to do great things and I, for one, will be keeping my eyes on her.

A very enjoyable read! Brilliant!
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Haunting magical realism in WWII Romania Jan. 29 2012
By Tracy Marks - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
"We began, first in our feet, then in our legs - those rootless stumps - in our sloshing guts and our clamoring hearts, to feel we were being abandoned on this island. This singing island. Why were we not running downstream with all the rainwater? Why were we standing here, dumb as flags stuck into the earth, when everything that could escape was escaping?" (Ramona Ausubel)

It is 1939, and the people of a tiny isolated Jewish village in Romania have just learned of nearby Nazi atrocities from the Stranger who seeks refuge among them. The villagers feel helpless against the approaching enemy, and cut off all contact with the outside world, retreating into a fantasy of the new beginning they can create in their hidden sanctuary.

Our narrator and heroine is Lena, initially a precocious eleven year old girl groping for identity at a time in which inner and outer worlds are amorphous and threatening. At times compelled to act younger, and at other times older than her age, Lena seeks safety in family, yet must over and over again give up what she knows and loves. Soon she will marry, have children, and struggle to survive as the realities of war burst through the illusory barricades the villagers have built around themselves.

NO ONE IS HERE EXCEPT ALL OF US is a haunting, lyrical novel, reminiscent at times of the magical realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Due to several quirky characters (deranged aunt Kayla, the Stranger), unforgettable local color (the house full of cabbages) and a dreamlike atmosphere, the first half of the book almost leads us to forget about the horrors threatening the village.

"Life was like a parenthesis between catastrophes. Each time they had to decide which to rebuild first - the temple or the cemetery," writes author Ramona Ausubel. "The process of living is to surrender what, for a few glimmering days or years, you have been allowed to hold."

The second half of the novel is more starkly real and gripping. In fact, Ausubel's craft improves with each chapter, which slowly builds through the undeniable sadness of the times to a convincing ending. In the process, we care about the characters, especially Lena who at such a young age must continually redefine herself.

Yes, it is difficult to believe that all of the people of a village would wrap themselves into a cocoon and try to deny the reality of the world around them. It is difficult to believe Igor's experience in Italy. It is difficult to believe that a four year old would speak as articulately as young Solomon. It is difficult to believe that, during the war, between ages of 11-17, Lena passed through so many life stages.

Ausubel is attempting to walk the precarious line between narrating grim reality and guiding us through the archetypal, universal realm of folklore, with nameless characters and occasional chant-like repetitions of phrases. She also tests our suspension of disbelief by writing in the first person, from Lena's perspective, yet narrating events happening to others that Lena could never had known.

But beyond magical realism and historical realism, Ausubel treads on the realm of psychological allegory. We may not be Jews living in war-torn Romania, but we have egos that seek to protect us from both internal and external threats - the flooding of unconscious contents into our conscious minds, and infringements of others into our personal space. To some extent, we may all be Lena, holding onto our illusions for as long as we can, and then attempting to survive the onslaught as chaos breaks through the barriers we have attempted to secure.

Ramona Ausubel based her novel upon the life of her great-grandmother, a Romanian Jewish refugee of WWI, but for some inexplicable reason transplanted her grandmother's stories to WWII. Since I had a Jewish father whose family emigrated from eastern Romania, I have considerable interest in the experience (mostly pogroms) of Romanian Jews. During WWII, Romania initially sided with the Axis powers, and then switched loyalties to the Allies. Ausubel does not directly explain the political context, but her novel is true to Romanian history.

In her NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR, Ausubel wrote, "This book is about what we pass on - cells, letters, memories, and the right of the next generation to keep telling the story long after the facts have melted away and what is left is truth, glittering in a sky deep and dark enough to hold everything lost, everything saved."
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