When I read the publisher’s blurb about Ramona Ausubel’s debut novel, No One Is Here Except All of Us, I knew it was going to be a powerful read. What I didn’t realize was how empowering it was going to be. When faced with overwhelming danger, and knowing their odds of survival, this town’s people reached for the only solution they could imagine making a difference and committed themselves to it wholeheartedly. So it should come as no surprise that this is a story about how powerful storytelling is in our lives. I was spellbound by this novel and am very happy to be able to offer a lucky reader the chance to win a copy for themselves!
For thousands of years, the Jewish people have survived despite numerous cultures waging genocide against them. It’s 1939 in a small, remote Jewish Romanian village in the Carpathian Mountains. The village is fairly self-sufficient more from necessity than for any other reason. Their residents have themselves or have ancestors who have survived pograms and other ways their fellow men have tried to rid the world of them. They tell stories about these atrocities so no one in the village will become too complacent about what history has taught them could happen again.
They are fairly removed from current world events, although they know enough about what’s going on in the outside world that they know it’s all begun again in Germany. They convince themselves that they are so far away from Hitler and his brown shirts, and such a remote village, that surely they have nothing to fear. They can’t stay in denial; however, as the fighting comes closer and they begin to hear what is being done to Jewish populations in countries closer by.
Then one day the nearby river has personal objects and other debris floating in its current. While they’re speculating about what could have happened to cause all these things to end up in the river, a woman floats by. Luckily, when they fish her out, she’s still alive. But the story she has to share with them shatters any delusions they might have had about their remoteness making them safe. Her village has been attacked by soldiers and brutally destroyed, including her children and everyone she knew. The only reason she is still alive is that she hid and then the river took her.
The villagers panic. They’re sure they’re next and they have no way to defend themselves. They gather with the stranger to decide what they should do. No one has the slightest idea. It’s like the shock has addled their brains. And then the stranger and a very precocious eleven-year-old girl, Lena, have an amazing idea. If the world is not one in which they will survive then they must recreate the world anew. After all, if the world is being created anew then their destiny is unknown but they will have control over it because they will be the only humans in this new world. Yes, they decide, this is a brilliant idea and will be their salvation.
“I [Lena] was in a room full of grown-ups who had no idea what to do. None of them. We were completely lost and helpless and my heartbeat turned irregular and I had to close my eyes and concentrate on breathing.
Just then the stranger’s voice came clear and strong, ‘We start over.’
‘We already tried. We can’t remember how we got where we are,’ Igor reminded her.
‘That’s not what she means,’ I said, surprised to understand exactly. ‘She means, once upon a time, tomorrow was the first day of the world. The very, very first…’”
They will themselves to forget time and their personal, village, and tribal history. They cut off all contact with the no-longer-existing outside world. They painstakingly go through the steps of creation one by one. They must re-choose their jobs and their spouses, or choose new ones. They recreate a way to worship God. The stranger is assigned to write down their prayers and praise of God so God will know they are doing their best to recreate the world as he intended it to be.
“I [Lena] began to wonder if God would be angry with us for doing away with his creation and starting again. I suggested we write a letter in explanation and ask for his blessing.
We did not start again because it wasn’t beautiful before. The world we make will be much smaller and less glorious than the one you made. Ours will have none of the strange, wild animals – no elephants or tigers, no parrots or blue frogs. It will have none of the exotic species, no seas, no lakes. We are content to accept this small circle of land as our entire universe, so long as we are safe here.”
And a family that has not been blessed with children chooses a child from another family as its own, much to that child’s horror. It’s ironic that the child is Lena, whose idea this was to begin with. Not only do they choose her but they decide she must revert to behaving like a baby because the world is beginning anew and they don’t know how to parent an eleven-year-old yet. Ah the irony of it all. Lena’s beginning to see that her idea may have had a few flaws in it but it’s too late now because the whole village is depending on it to save them. And it does seem to work for several years.
Of course her new parents can’t keep her a baby for long so they then accelerate her development over the next couple of years, until they soon decide she’s old enough to get married. Nothing she can say will convince them otherwise so she’s betrothed and married to Igor, the banker’s son. Soon she becomes a mother and has a son of her own, with another child on the way.
And that’s when the village’s luck runs out. Ironically, Russian soldiers invade the village on their way home from fighting the Germans. When Lena’s husband is taken prisoner, a very pregnant Lena and her son go in search of Igor to bring him home.
Of course no matter how intriguing a story concept is, it won’t work if you can’t relate to the characters. The villagers in this novel come to life. I’ve only skimmed the surface because the story is so complex; however, Lena is not the only highly relatable character. Poor loveable Lena, whose idea comes back to bite her. Who would think an entire village would adopt an eleven year old’s fairy-tale-like idea? There were many sympathetic characters, very intelligent and not-so-much, both inside the village and along Lena’s trip after she left. I particularly liked the strange woman who washed up and the pharmacist, as well as Lena’s real mother.
I want to make something clear though. This is not a story about the Holocaust and I don’t believe it was ever intended to be. It is a story about how our stories shape our lives – how we believe and act on our stories as if they are real. We all have stories on many different levels; personal stories, family stories, regional stories, national stories, political stories, religious stories, ethnic stories, cultural stories. That’s not to say that these stories don’t contain facts and evidence because they do but it’s often hard to separate fact from fiction in stories we’ve accepted as true. The stories the villagers in There’s No One Here Except All of Us tell themselves are based on the creation story, which they believe is filled with facts. They build their new world story based on those facts and then live accordingly.
I was swept up in the poetic prose of No One Is Here Except All of Us and thoroughly amazed by this village of reasonably intelligent but desperate people. Faith, hope, and a strong determination to survive can take people places they never knew were possible. I’m very happy to be able to share this one with you. Be sure to enter our giveaway!
Below is a short video in which Ramona Ausubel discusses how her novel came about:
No One Is Here Except All of Us was released on February 2, 2012, so it should be available from your favorite bookseller below. Just click the button to go there to get it.
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One lucky reader will win an advance readers’ copy (ARC) of No One Is Here Except All of Us by Ramona Ausbel.
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