No One is Here Except All of Us Hardcover – Feb 2 2012
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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 www.ramonaausubel.com.
Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
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
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.
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!