No One Is Here Except All of Us

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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 ...

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No One Is Here Except All of Us

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Overview

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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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Ausubel’s debut novel about survival and storytelling begins in 1939 as nine Jewish families that make up the northern Romanian village of Zalischik decide—as war threatens to consume all of Europe—to “start over” by retreating into an imaginary, alternative history and remaking their world. Aided by a mysterious pogrom survivor who appears in their village, these families reinvent themselves, reassigning relationships, occupations, even ages, believing against reason that this new version of events will keep them safe, for, they hope, “this world is about hope more than events.” At the center of the effort and the novel is Lena, the 11-year-old daughter of the village cabbage farmer, who must maintain the thread of narrative even as she is adopted by her aunt and uncle, married to the banker’s unlucky son, Igor, and becomes a mother. When the outside world finally intrudes on the village idyll, Lena must accept that her duty is “to survive to tell what happens,” and she sets out on a journey that will deprive her of everything but her will to keep telling. Despite hints of beauty and meaning, the novel’s combination of magical realism and traumatic history feels forced, undermining its theme of the power of storytelling. Agent: Janklow & Nesbit Associates. (Feb.)
Library Journal
When danger threatens, would that we could simply change reality's rules. That's what one little Romanian village tries to do in 1939, as war thunders on the horizon. At the suggestion of an 11-year-old girl and a stranger who's washed into their midst, the townsfolk decide that they can hold danger at bay by using their imagination; they completely remake their lives by throwing out everything they once knew, reassigning jobs and even spouses, and forgetting history altogether. It works for a while, but eventually our heroine grows up and must leave the village's parameters to save her husband and children. A wonderfully fresh and inventive premise replicating exactly what literature can do, and award-winning debut author Ausubel reputedly writes with warmth and flare. I'm excited about this one.
Library Journal
In 1939 in an obscure Jewish village in Romania, a woman washes up on the shore of the river, the only survivor of a brutal attack that destroyed her family. The villagers take her in, but her story brings the reality of war to them. What if they could create a new world, one without death and destruction? Through stories, they begin speaking their new world into existence. Young Lena is most affected by this creation; casting aside preconceived rules, her childless aunt and uncle decide that she should be their daughter because her parents have three children. Further transformations take place when the banker decides his son should marry Lena and start a family. As Lena questions her identity, the village continues to live in committed isolation until enemy soldiers arrive. During the hardships suffered by the survivors, the power of story keeps them and their families alive even if only in memory. VERDICT Debut novelist Ausubel has written a riveting, otherworldly story about an all-too-real war and the transformative power of community. Recommended. [See Prepub Alert, 8/8/11.]—Joy Humphrey, Pepperdine Univ. Law Lib., Malibu, CA
Kirkus Reviews
A bittersweet fable of war and survival set in a Romanian shtetl. Like Chagall's art, charming or cloying depending on taste, Ausubel's fanciful novel employs an intensely imaginative style both to evoke Zalischik, a remote Jewish settlement in 1939, and also to fuel her story. As news of the encroaching anti-Semitic terrors filters into the village via the horrific experience of a half-drowned stranger, the community tries to hold the world at bay with its imagination while cutting itself off from external contact. The narrator, 11-year-old Lena, must endure a parallel delusion. Given by her loving parents to her barren aunt and uncle, she is pushed rapidly through the stages of childhood again as her partly-deranged new parents teach her to talk and walk, then arrange marriage to Igor, the banker's son. Happiness and children follow, but the village's isolation can't last. After Igor is taken prisoner, Lena flees into the woods where her baby dies and farmers offer her an impossible choice. Returning to Zalischik where she learns the fate of her people, she finally turns to a future in the New World. Ausubel's sustained, idiosyncratic take on the Holocaust is double-edged, alternating affecting heartache with sentimental poetic overkill. Opinion may be divided, but there's an undeniable element of talent here.
From the Publisher
"Merlington enhances Ausubel's deft character development by employing an equally subtle touch to vocally define personalities. She skillfully allows the author's lyrical prose to deliver all necessary drama and emotion. Listeners who embrace this unconventional story will be treated to a unique experience that lingers long after the work ends." - AudioFile Magazine
"Laural Merlington reads the story wistfully and captures the strength and ingenuity of Lena as a girl, as a wanderer and as a believer." - Sound Commentary
A Best Book of 2012. - Huffington Post
"...fantastical and ambitious...infused with faith in the power of storytelling." - New York Times
"Ausubel uses the history of her own great grandmother as the framework for her first novel, which fully evokes the horrors of the Holocaust by merely touching on events. A fabulist tale of love, loss, faith, hope, community, and, especially, the power of story." - Booklist
"A bittersweet fable of war and survival set in a Romanian shtetl...there's an undeniable element of talent here." - Kirkus Reviews
"Ausubel has written a riveting, otherworldly story about an all-too-real war and the transformative power of community." - Library Journal
"...a work of magical realism that calls upon the spirit of Gabriel Garcia Marquez from its first sentences...Ausubel breaks apart her characters' sense of safety and beliefs in slow motion, but she does it without ever sacrificing their souls." - NPR
"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
"...a sustained magical realist fable where the characters also engage in self-conscious magical thinking." - The Toronto Star
"...beautifully written in a flowing, lyrical prose...hauntingly poetic...No One is Here is an electric jolt, waking us up to remember what has been and what could be again." - Relevant Magazine
"...lyrical and poetic...fascinating." - BlogCritics.org
"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
"In her strange and lovely debut novel, Ramona Ausubel tells (slyly, sideways) of the horrors of war: A Romanian Jewish community dreams up a collective delusion about the world they live in. Rather than resist or run from events too insane to be real, they construct an elaborate game of make-believe which works, until it doesn't. I was unsettled and moved by this tale of the human imagination - its force, its failure and its regeneration." - Danzy Senna, author of You are Free
"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 of 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
The Barnes & Noble Review

Ramona Ausubel's No One Is Here Except All of Us combines two currently popular forms of Jewish-American storytelling: the Holocaust novel and the Yiddishkeit homage. We have no dearth of Holocaust-themed novels, of course, and authors such as Dara Horn, Shalom Auslander, and Jonathan Safran Foer have been reimagining Aleichem's and Singer's fabulisms through novels set in an otherwise quotidian present. Ausubel gambles by combining the two forms in this singsong parable about the life of a Jewish village in Romania during World War II.

The conceit she devises is initially charming, though it strains credulity, even in a world carefully imagined as a vessel for the narrative magic of a folktale. It is 1939, and the hundred villagers in secluded Zalishik, an island hamlet surrounded by a river, learn about the war when a stranger washes up on the shore with news of approaching horrors. With history becoming nightmare, the villagers decide to isolate themselves, cut off contact with the outside world, and start anew. Lena, then eleven, proposes that to do this they must recreate the world entirely. The child's precocious insight becomes the template for an audacious communal enterprise: forget all they knew before and start over from scratch. The early chapters unfold day by day, Genesis-style.

But war does come, and it first takes Lena's young husband, who becomes a character in an odd Mel Brooksian parody of POW life in Italy. Then it takes the village, though Lena escapes with her two sons, roaming and starving until she is taken in by a Russian farmer and his wife. When she leaves their home, she is alone, pregnant, and carrying papers and money to get her to America.

The plot, though, is not the story. Neither is character: Lena and her husband, Igor, are flattened by the mythmaking that lays a heavy somnolence over the novel — a mood strangely at odds with the desperate situation in which these people find themselves. Its dreamy pages are instead concerned with vagaries, longing, family, and the nature of stories writ large. Separated parents and children write each other notes: "This is how I love you." "I almost remember who you are and I definitely love you."

Ausubel's sepia-toned characters vaguely remember in the language of nouns: cabbages, river, mother, husband. Why? Jarringly, the "answer" to the novel is found in the back of the book, in Ausubel's "A Note from the Author." She tells us her grandmother told her stories of her upbringing in Romania. "The stories were fables to me," she writes. She asked her grandmother to tell those stories into a tape recorder and look at pictures with her. "We went through the photo albums full of pictures of men and women who all looked the same..." She wrote her grandmother's story "in the dark. The legends were nothing more than points of light in a night sky. My territory, my work, was the dark matter, the emptiness of what is not known, what is unthinkable yet can still be felt."

Generations removed from events, Ausubel explains her tale's misty obscurity. It is a lovely story, full of a diffuse sadness, but I look forward her future works of fiction — stories hopefully written in a sharper light.

Anne Trubek is Chair of Rhetoric and Composition at Oberlin College and the author of A Skeptic's Guide to Writers' Houses.

Reviewer: Anne Trubek

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594487941
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 2/2/2012
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet 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.

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Interviews & Essays

Téa Obreht is the author of The Tiger's Wife, a New York Times bestseller and National Book Award finalist. Here she talks with novelist Ramona Ausubel about her experiences writing No One is Here Except All of Us

Téa Obreht: I'm always interested in how projects of this magnitude begin. It seems like a novel "about" one's family, or projecting one's family into a fictional sphere, almost always ends up being an endeavor of self-discovery. Tell me a little bit about how you came to it, about what inspired you to take this journey and why.

Ramona Ausubel: The project started out as a desire to record the family stories while my grandmother was still alive and well (happily, she remains so at ninety-one). I didn't know it would become a novel until later, when, having collected dozens of individual stories, I was frustrated that the complete picture was still foggy. It felt like having a lot of scraps of fabric, but if I wanted to see the quilt, I was going to have to sew it myself.

Téa Obreht: So much of this incredible book relies on fable, on the creation and acceptance of a particular reality in order to survive. At the end of the book, in a note to the reader, you even say "facts aren't important" and that "the truth is in the telling." What draws you to this idea of fable? What is its place in the modern world?

Ramona Ausubel: When I first started writing, I was trying to stick as closely to the "facts" as possible. Soon, I realized that facts were not what I really cared about. The reason it mattered to my grandmother to tell the story and the reason it mattered to me to hear it and tell it again was not that we were trying to reconstruct history, it was that we were trying to fold the characters, places and lives from the past into our world. As long as a story is being told, it stays alive, even as it changes. Each fable is a version of what could have happened, and between all those versions, maybe we come close to the truth. I think that, no matter how modern our world gets, we will always have a need to tell stories about the past.

Téa Obreht: I was fascinated by the point of view shifts in No One Is Here Except All Of Us; it seems that the novel begins rooted in collective consciousness and then, as the experiment of isolation fails, and tragedy upon tragedy is unleashed onto the characters, this shared perspective splits up until, in an ironic twist, outside communication becomes the only way the characters receive fragmented information about each others' lives. Why did you choose this particular narrative style? How did you settle on Lena as the primary voice?

Ramona Ausubel: It took many drafts to find the right point-of-view for this story. Lena is based on my great-grandmother and I knew she would be the protagonist, but I wanted it to be about everyone together as well, for there to be a kind of Greek chorus. Finally, I decided to give the story to Lena to tell, and to allow her to speak both for the village and for herself, to speak to the ideas of collective struggle and imagination in addition to one person's loneliness and isolation.

Téa Obreht: This novel was obviously inspired by family legends, but tell me more about your own life as a writer. When did you know you wanted to write? Who are some of your literary influences?

Ramona Ausubel: I have wanted to write for as long as I can remember. My mom recently came across the poems I wrote in fifth grade, and I was a little embarrassed to admit that not only did I recall writing them, but I had been so proud of them that I still had them memorized twenty years later. I still feel the same sense of excitement and satisfaction when a piece of writing starts to come alive. Some authors and books that matter to me are Pastoralia, by George Saunders, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon, Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Gilead by Marilyn Robinson and Florida by Christine Schutt.

Téa Obreht: You already have numerous illustrious publications under your belt, but No One Is Here Except All Of Us is your first novel. What were some of the challenges you had to overcome, and what surprised you most about the process?

Ramona Ausubel: I have written short stories that mattered a lot to me, but writing this book was different because I spent so many hours in the world of the novel—some days I spent more time there than I did in the real world. Though the characters are different from the relatives on whom they are based, I still feel that I got to know my ancestors in a way I never could have otherwise. Those old family stories became my own, and they became part of my everyday life. In November, I became a mother. As I gaze down at my new baby, a tiny, beautiful little boy, I think, "I'm glad you're here. I have so many stories to tell you," and I realize that in many ways I have been writing this novel for him.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 16 )
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(4)

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(6)

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Sort by: Showing all of 16 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 12, 2012

    A gentle raft ride, then white water and stars

    A village simply decouples itself from Europe in 1939. This novel explores big subjects - history, identity, nature, war, childhood - through the life of the village, as if Brigadoon floated away from World War II. About 320 pages long, the book drifts gently at first, and then courses along from about page 190 to the end in some of the best contemporary story-telling and writing I have read. Might be a book that will become a classic.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted October 7, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    "There is always a story. No matter what we do, it can't he

    "There is always a story. No matter what we do, it can't help but unfold"

    No One Is Here Except All of Us by Ramona Ausubel is the most moving book I have read in a long time.  

    I grabbed it from the library after Leah @ Books Speaks Volumes raved about it, and I was not disappointed.

    The small Romanian village of Zalischik is isolated from the rest of the country geographically.  When a stranger is found, still alive, in their river, with a horrific tale of WWII tragedy, the town takes 11-year-old Lena's advice to begin the world again.  What does this mean?  The villagers ban together, "forget" and get rid of old world things, and start their lives over. 

    This leads to some wonderful and some very tragic experiences.  

    But what happens when the bubble bursts?  When the villagers can no longer pretend that they are truly isolated in a new world?  

    Ramona Ausubel is a beautiful writer, sometimes cryptic and odd, with writing filled with gorgeous metaphors.  

    The writing is emotional.  I felt so connected to the characters.  

    No One Is Here Except All of Us is mournful, beautiful, like a song that fills you with melancholy and brings tears to your eyes.   

    Thank you for reading, 

    Rebecca @ Love at First Book

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 3, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Lyrical and Poetic Book

    No One is Here Except All of Us by Ramona Ausubel is a fic­tional book tak­ing place dur­ing World War II. The book fol­lows a small group of Jew­ish vil­lagers who lives in a town on a river bank.

    In a remote Jew­ish vil­lage, located on a river bank, the war is clos­ing in on them. After thou­sands of years of mov­ing, escap­ing and being expelled sud­denly, in 1939, it seems that there is nowhere to go.

    The answer to the village's dilemma comes from an eleven year old girl and a mys­te­ri­ous stranger - they will rein­vent the world.

    No One is Here Except All of Us by Ramona Ausube is a very lyri­cal and poetic book. The story flows, is unique and fas­ci­nat­ing. Most of the time I read the book I felt as if I, or the pro­tag­o­nist, were dream­ing, how­ever, upon read­ing the author's note it turned out that many of the events are based on what Ms.Ausubel's great grand­mother expe­ri­enced dur­ing World War II.

    The premise of the book is inter­est­ing, some­thing I haven't read yet. At first it was hard for me to process the story, I'm just too log­i­cal, but the more I read, the eas­ier it go and I started to let go and enjoy the story more and more.

    Ms. Ausubel man­aged to cre­ate a world within a world through her char­ac­ters which sucked me into as well. I would almost be tempted to cat­e­go­rize this book under "magic", but I wouldn't go as far and nei­ther does the book itself.

    With­out giv­ing any­thing away, I was sur­prised by the end­ing, which is not sappy or the manda­tory feel-good type we come to expect. Even if you wouldn't like the story, you'd love the prose.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 7, 2012

    Pleasant enough reading

    Interesting concept but becomes meaningless at the end.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 12, 2012

    Somewhat dark with fairy tale nuances

    Since it was meant as a word-of-mouth story it is not the easiest read out there but worth the effort.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 18, 2013

    A terrible book. Poorly written and childishly done. Characte

    A terrible book.

    Poorly written and childishly done. Character development was non-existent. The only reason I kept reading was it was a book club choice. I was hoping that all the characters would quickly die so the book would be over.

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 8, 2013

    No one is here except all us

    The weirdest book that I have read about a group of people during WWII and the losses they shared, the deaths , and trying to remember their faith. I really didnt enjoy and was the hardest 200 pages to read. Not because of rthe subjecy matter, but the way the matter was written. A sixth grader could have done as well. I read a lot. Generally, a book every day or two. I couldnt keep on track. The book was free and you could tell.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 21, 2013

    Don't waste your money

    This book has to be one of the worst books I have ever tried to read. Don't waste your money!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 28, 2012

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 3, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted June 12, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted February 27, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted May 14, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted February 3, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted October 20, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted April 9, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

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