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No One Is Here Except All of Us

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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, exploring how we use storytelling to survive and shape our own truths.

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.

325 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2012

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About the author

Ramona Ausubel

10 books362 followers
Ramona Ausubel is the author of a new novel, Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty (on sale 6/14/2016) as well as No One is Here Except All of Us, winner of the PEN Center USA Literary Award for Fiction, the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award and Finalist for the New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award. Her collection of stories, A Guide to Being Born, was a New York Times’ Notable Book. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Tin House, The Paris Review Daily, One Story, Ploughshares, The Oxford American and The Best American Fantasy. She is a faculty member of the low-residency MFA program at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 592 reviews
Profile Image for Cindi (Utah Mom’s Life).
349 reviews68 followers
February 15, 2012
Magical. Lyrical. Mesmerizing. Haunting. Heartbreaking. Tender. Hopeful. Healing. Life.

How can I describe the unique and unforgettable novel No One Is Here Except All Of Us by Ramona Ausubel? Part fable. Part poetry. Part fairy tale. Ausubel takes the stories that she has heard from her grandmother since childhood and weaves them into a breathtaking and heart wrenching novel with characters that are vivid and alive in their human desires, aches and triumphs.

A remote Jewish village in Romania decides to create a new world for themselves as the Nazis and war threatens eminent danger. Constructing a society that cares for everyone in the village, they cut themselves off from the outside world and chose instead to believe that the world had started over with only them. Having a strong faith and a stranger that is determined to protect them, they successfully live in peace in their new world for several years. But the other world continues and the war that has taken over Europe will not leave them alone. As their faith in their new world is shattered they turn to hope.

Hope = Life.

A novel like No One Is Here Except All Of Us is a rare gift and Ramona Ausubel is a rare talent.

Profile Image for Julie Ehlers.
1,111 reviews1,397 followers
October 22, 2018
Have you ever had an unread book that just constantly nagged at you for no apparent reason? No One Is Here Except All of Us was one of those for me. True, it was an ARC I'd had for about 6 years, but I own many other unread ARCs and certainly many unread books that I've had for more than 6 years, so why this one in particular nagged at me was a mystery. I think it was just that because it was an ARC, I felt obligated to read it, but it really, really didn't sound like my kind of thing, so I suspected it would be a chore to get through.

Initially it seemed that my suspicion was correct. It gives away nothing to say this novel is about a small, isolated village in Romania that deals with WWII by deciding to pretend not just that it isn't happening, but that they've actually gone back to the beginning of time. There is no history; everything is new. I don't generally like books (or movies) that employ whimsy in their portrayal of the Holocaust, but fortunately this book managed to retain some gravitas despite its odd premise. What really bothered me about it was the absurdly flowery, overly descriptive language that made everything take twice as long as it needed to, and that seemed designed to distract from the fact that not too much was happening. I was so frustrated by this that I nearly gave up on the book several times and kept reading only out of my sheer determination to finish it and never have to think about it again.

But the real world eventually does intrude into the villagers' imperfect eden, and at that point the book really picked up its pace. By halfway through it had become genuinely absorbing, and a few pages later it made me cry for the first time. (That was a surprise!) As the plot got going the flowery language fell away and the prose became more spare, but no less poetic. I was very, very taken by the last half of the book, and almost (but not quite) felt that the slow beginning had been worth it. No One Is Here Except All of Us does an excellent job of portraying the various ways people survived WWII (or didn't); it's realistically grim but somehow still hopeful, and the more fantastical beginning does end up connecting nicely with all the rest of it. I'm a big believer that we should abandon books we're not enjoying without feeling guilty about it, but I spent the last 100 pages of this one thinking about what a great reading experience I would've missed if I hadn't stuck with it. I'm very glad I did!

Would I read another book by Ramona Ausubel? That's a definite yes. She's got a unique writing style and I'm eager to see how she applies it to other types of stories. Regardless of what kind of novel she writes in the future, I'm fairly sure that, like No One Is Here Except for All of Us, it will be entirely different from anything else out there.

I received this ARC via Shelf Awareness quite a few years ago. Thank you to the publisher!
Profile Image for Julie.
1,325 reviews92 followers
February 15, 2012
This book is getting a lot of hype and I’m still scratching my head wondering why. By now you probably know the premise of the remote Romanian village of Jews who choose to reinvent their world and isolate themselves from the chaos of war. The main thing I don’t understand is why people are calling this a Holocaust book. The war is so distant because the villagers decide to ignore it. At some point, yes, it reaches them, but the dreamlike narration makes it feel surreal and unimportant. Which leaves me to another reason I disliked this book. The writing is very abstract. Some may call it lyrical or poetic. Not me. Just tell the story, don’t burden it with pointless rhetoric. Everything in the villager’s lives is either a blessing or being blessed. There is nothing definite and everything seems to have blurry edges because of the writing style. It’s as if the author is screaming, “Look at me, I’m a word acrobat!”

One thing a reader might lose sight of in this convoluted, remade world that the village exists in, is Lena’s age. Someone may get too caught up in the idea that her parents gave her away or in the various lives of the villagers, but keep in mind, she’s almost 12 when she is married off and has her first child within a year. So by the time she is stumbling through the wilderness with her 4 year-old and second infant, she’s only 16, when it seems as if she is a wizened older woman. That just didn’t work for me. You’re still a child despite how many children you have produced.

The people in the village are so overtly optimistic that it’s hard to take them seriously. The ridiculous ideas they have about forming the world anew makes them seem extremely naïve. I perceived the characters more as caricatures, especially since in most cases, they are not referred to by their names, but by their jobs/roles, i.e. the butcher, the baker, the widow, etc.

Perhaps if the author had done a forward explaining her motives and her family history, I would have appreciated the novel more. Instead, her inspiration for the story is in the author’s note at the end of the book. A more preemptive background would have made this book less tedious. Phew, writing this review and pointing out all the book’s shortcomings was almost as exhausting as reading the thing.

I received a complimentary copy of this book via the Amazon Vine program
Profile Image for Jill.
1,168 reviews1,642 followers
February 9, 2012
Anyone who has viewed Robert Benigni in Life is Beautiful understands the power of storytelling, particularly when confronted with one of the most heinous evils in history – the Holocaust. In that movie, the character uses his fertile imagination to provide alternate stories for his son, interned in a concentration camp. In this debut novel by Ramona Ausubel, a remote Jewish village in Romania erases the approaching danger by reinventing their world and starting from scratch.

It’s an intriguing premise; time and history are forgotten, and relationships are reassigned. All the villagers try hard to believe and their belief is not in a force above but in their own abilities to reinvent their personal destinies. In passages that parallel Genesis, seven days of creation are revealed and the villagers offer up this: “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.”

From here, we hear the narrative from Lena – an 11-year-old who is reassigned to other parents. She must go back and relive her life on the fast track, starting with infancy and then racing past her real age. And through this process, she buys into the new world. Here she is, talking to her young husband during the third year of peace: “Let’s say the world is beautiful and safe. Let’s say that the new world we are all making together is a fair one, and that everything turns out all right. Let’s believe that you are a good father and I am a good mother, and this baby is a healthy boy who will live long enough to tell the story again and again that he was the first baby I a brand-new world where there was always enough food, always enough warmth, and always enough love.”

Does this psalm to storytelling work? To a degree. There is sheer ambitious and poetry in this writer’s work and strong muted themes as well: How much power does our imagination have in how we shape the stories of our life? Is God present or absent in the worst of times? Can we create effective stories to be carried down from one generation to the other so that the world will not forget?

The greatest strength of this book may be its greatest weakness. The same stories that sustain Lena and the villagers also distance us – the readers – from the full horror of the events leading up to the Holocaust, and indeed, from the characters themselves. At the end of the day, I admired, more than loved, what Ramona Ausubel was accomplishing, which, in her own words in an afterword, are “about the bigness of being alive as an individual, a family member, a resident, a member of the tribe, and a participant in history.”
Profile Image for Erika Robuck.
Author 11 books1,068 followers
February 9, 2013
Set in a remote village in Romania in 1939, NO ONE IS HERE EXCEPT ALL OF US tells the story of nine Jewish families who make a brave and unusual decision when the encroaching effects of the Nazi’s campaign across Europe arrive in the form of a nearly drowned woman. This stranger tells of an evil army who has tortured and murdered everyone she loves, and the villagers recognize their own danger.

Together, they decide to reinvent themselves. Husbands and children are exchanged, jobs are swapped, and religious worship is reimagined. In their naivete, they convince themselves that if they recreate their myths and stories, they will begin the world again and protect themselves from outside threats.

For a period of time, their grand experiment seems to work, but the smallest action of remembrance suddenly invites the outside world in at a greater rate than it can be held out. What ensues is destruction, betrayal, and devastation, but also, great opportunities for courage, self-sacrifice, and hope.

This novel is a treasure. Ausubel’s voice is unique and evocative. Words are arranged to convey layers of meaning rich in symbol and history. Each paragraph holds weight. It cannot be read quickly, and to do so would do the prose a disservice. Once the reader enters this world, even if she wants to leave she will be held captive by the bazaar behaviors, honest feelings, suspenseful action, and ultimate destination of the book.

NO ONE IS HERE EXCEPT ALL OF US made me feel the crimes against humanity so often written about during the second World War in new ways, ways that cut deeper than ever before, and yet always kept a persistent, lingering hope. Sometimes it is elusive and seems as if it will never return, but Ausubel, a master storyteller, knows just when to give the reader relief.

The last time I felt this strongly about a book was when I read THE ROAD by Cormac McCarthy. Both of these books broke my heart over and over, but the small shaft of redemption made the pain worthwhile.

If you enjoy literary novels that challenge your emotions and engage your imagination in new ways, I highly recommend NO ONE IS HERE EXCEPT ALL OF US. It is one of the most powerful and moving books I’ve ever read, and I think book clubs, in particular, would gain much from reading and discussing it.
Profile Image for Katherine.
180 reviews
June 14, 2012
Oh. My. God. I am impressed with anyone who could get through this thing. I made it to page 73 before I was so completely squicked out by the narrator's situation that I couldn't stand it any more. I don't care what kind of new creation everyone thought they were making... in what new creation could it possibly be okay to place your daughter into the hands of an obviously mentally ill woman? I had been muttering "Ew. Eeeew. Oh God, EEEEEEWWW..." for several pages, but at the nursing scene? I slammed the book shut and declared that I was done.

I'm all about the suspension of disbelief, but it had better be supported by some decent writing. In this book, the reader is subjected to sentences like "I said that I hoped there was a little room left for myself, just a small cave somewhere between the imprinted feel of walking across wet grass and the precise tension of an apple giving way under a knife." We have an author who can find some vivid images in a few words, but has no earthly idea of how to string them together in a coherent fashion.

This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
100 reviews1 follower
February 12, 2012
AWFUL. And by "awful," I am partially referring to the horrific, disturbing details that one would expect from a novel about the Holocaust. I do think it is important for us to be made aware of these events, so I'm not criticizing the author for including them in her book. (Though I do think a scene where a person is raped on a filthy mattress in the middle of a field while the bones of her dead baby rattle alongside her may be a bit gratuitous.)

But I also just feel like this story was awful by literary standards. There were too many boring, lyrical passages where the author just seemed to like hearing herself talk. And it wasn't that kind of fanciful writing that tickles your brain a little, it was like, OMG just come right out and say what you want to say. The storyline was disjointed, and very few characters made redeeming, heartwarming decisions. The ending was bittersweet, and that's what you'd expect from a book about the Holocaust, but it was like 90% bitter and 10% sweet.

Not good. Not good at all.
Profile Image for Jan Priddy.
720 reviews137 followers
March 21, 2012
I loved Ausubel's One Story offering, “Safe Passage” and expected I would love this too. The first hint that I might not was her New Yorker story that most people seem to have loved, but which I couldn't quite believe. And then the novel arrived and I began reading. The premise is brilliant and others have spoken to that.

Ironically, since so many people have also admired Ausubel's skill as a writer, the writing is the problem for me. Characters are held at a distance. Others refer to the fairy-tale feel, and perhaps that's what they mean. I felt always held at arm's length from these people, even as the story dips into the minds of multiple characters. The point of view shifts from first person to omniscient to limited third without ever settling. It's a problem of narrative distance. I cannot quite catch hold of these people as if the author didn't hold them close and so neither do I. Their dreams and suffering are not mine. It is a story about people rather than a story of them.

Perhaps she wasn't ready for a novel, perhaps she wanted too much from herself to write such a novel. Perhaps, if this had been a short story (a longish one), I would have loved it. Perhaps I am wrong. In any event, although I love magic realism and I love fables and fairy tales, and I loved "Safe Passages," I do not love this book. Perhaps another time.
Profile Image for Isa.
41 reviews67 followers
March 22, 2018
I was drawn to this book because it takes place in Romania and because it is about the Holocaust....
Although the writing is exquisite I cannot finish it..... the story itself doesn't appeal to me.
Profile Image for Jackie.
692 reviews182 followers
February 8, 2012
First they see bomber planes fly over their houses at the beginning of WWII. Then a refugee who threw herself into the river after seeing her husband and children killed washes up on their riverbank. Aghast at what they learn from her, this small village of 102 people decide that the best way to avoid the horror that was clearly coming was to create their own world. They already live on a peninsula, so only one small spot on the river needs to be hidden and they can start anew. That is
indeed what they do, but it isn't as easy as it seemed. It forces some pretty crazy realignments involving commerce and family/social arrangements. It even changes their religion. But, alas, the past cannot be completely erased, and they could not hide forever.

This is a very odd but engrossing tale about dreams, reality, memory, community, family, love, faith, survival and, above all, storytelling. The ugly and the beautiful are both presented in a quiet, simple prose that hides the profundity of its message. At times it can take your breath away with all the innocence and awfulness mixing together. There are parts of this novel that will haunt me for a long, long time. More so because I know that this story is based on the author's family history. In short, this is an amazing book.
Profile Image for Elise.
856 reviews64 followers
August 9, 2012
"If you can't remember the stars' shapes, make more up. Sometimes, you have to make your own heavens."

This piece of advice passed from a father to his son in "No One is Here Except All of Us," summarizes nicely this most original and mesmerizing story I have read in a long time. In the remote Romanian village of Zalischik, the mysterious villagers learn to become completely self-sufficient by trading with no neighboring villages and by cloaking themselves in stories of their own invention in order to hide from the Nazis. Here, the villagers' stories are the very stars with which they make their own heavens.

"No One is Here Except All of Us" is a moving account of the role of stories as a tool for salvation in our lives. At one point, Lena, the story's narrator, meets an old woman on a train who shares wisdom about the role of stories as a vehicle for faith:

"I know he exists, because--look around. Only God could think of a place as deranged and gorgeous as this. But the problem is that he won't tell us yes or no. He's very impressionable. We say, Everyone has to wear a fancy hat and pray on Sunday and he says, All right, let's see it. We say, No one can eat meat from a pig and he says, Good idea. Someone says, Everyone has to eat meat from a pig and he says, Fine with me. Someone says, Let's kill everyone with brown hair and he says, Sure, why don't you try it out...God just likes a good story."

And in this passage, I found the words to describe Ausubel's haunting and strange novel. Here she has woven a memorable tapestry out of loss that is both "deranged and gorgeous." I could not put this book down because of its enchanting characters, Ausubel's lyrical prose that dance off the page, and because of so much wisdom. Here, I will leave you with some:

"The process of living is to surrender what, for a few glimmering days or years, you have been allowed to hold. But there is no such place as gone."

This is a book that I will always cherish, one I will likely return to several times over the course of my lifetime, and one I would love to teach someday in the context of the Diaspora. Thank you, Ramona Ausubel, for inviting me on this magical journey. I eagerly await your next book.

Profile Image for Athornton.
493 reviews2 followers
July 27, 2012
Another book that I read from readingroupguides.com- these contests rock! Sorry to say that after 75 pages I am giving up- thought it would be an interesting read about the Holocaust, World War II, etc. but am totally bewildered and my head hurts at this point. The premise of a group of people hearing a plane, deciding to restart their world by just throwing out clocks so they had no sense of time and then recounting each day starting with "day one" was strange. The idea of giving away a child to another family (even if they are related) because they can't have children and using the idea of reinventing the world as an excuse, just not understandable. Even better that they were given one child and returned her because she was too big, just to get given another child, as if they were shopping! Despicable! I found the writing really slow and just could not get into the book. As much as I love the goodreads contests, this read was not for me!
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
128 reviews2 followers
February 13, 2012
This is a book that I was fortunate to receive through Goodreads.

I will admit that it took me a while to warm up to this book. In large part I think this was due to the author's narrative style and in particular a tendency to string out sentences using conjunctions and commas. Rememeber the old song of "the birds and the bees and the flowers etc. - well this type of sentence seemed to dominate the early sections of the book and after a while, tended to grate on me.

Eventually I warmed up to the book and the characters. I am not sue if the extended sentences became less common as the the book wore on or whether I became so caught up in the story that I overlooked them. Either way, I am happy that I stuck through with the book and feel that I was rewarded with a touching, moving and thoroughly enjoyable read. While the theme of the indominitable human spirit has been covered many times, this one is told with such innocence and warmth to make the theme refreshing.
Profile Image for Kerfe.
883 reviews36 followers
September 21, 2012
"There is always a story. No matter what we do it can't help but unfold."
"I'm afraid," I said.
"Yes," she told me.

This is one of those books.

You could say it's a story of war and holocaust. You could say it's about magic and language and time. You could say it's a story of connections, of how strangers become families, of how families and communities begin, end, continue. You could say it's a spiritual story, full of questions and poetry and prayers. You could say it's about water and earth and sky and stars. You could say it's a story about kindness and cruelty, hope and despair. You could say it's about loss and remembering, a story of "spit, babies, snot, spoon, death, dogs, saddle, horse, rain ,anger, howl."

And you would be correct.

"We pray that the lost are caught by safe hands. We pray that the morning is full of birds. We pray for whatever You have in store, but better, if You can."

Profile Image for Christopher Alonso.
Author 1 book255 followers
December 22, 2014
I don't know if I'll be able to do this book justice. The voice and the descriptions. You're floating over the narrator, a ghost, fog, and you're breathing air you're not supposed to breathe and hearing things you're not supposed to hear. Dreamlike is the closest word I c an think of, and it's not enough.
Profile Image for Gail Amendt.
640 reviews24 followers
February 11, 2012
I have been procrastinating on posting a review of this one because it is such a strange book that I have been having a hard time deciding what to say. When I found out I had won this on a the Goodreads giveaway, I was excited, as I love historical fiction, especially about WWII and the Holocaust. It was not at all what I was expecting.

When the residents of a small, isolated Jewish town in Romania realize the war is coming, they decide to cut off their peninsula from the outside world and pretend that the world is beginning anew. Some wholeheartedly believe in this re-invention, while others just merely play along. Due to their geographical isolation, this denial of the outside world actually works for quite some time, but eventually the world, and the war does catch up with them and they are horribly ill-prepared.

The story is narrated by a child in a very innocent, almost fairytale-like tone. As she matures, some of the innocence is lost, but even then I found her naivete, and that of the other villagers, horribly unbelievable and frustrating. This look at the war through impossibly innocent eyes reminds me of "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas", to which I am sure it will be compared, and which I also did not really like.

This book is not all bad. Ramona Ausubel is a good writer, and I did enjoy her imagination and writing style. This book does provide surprising insight into the Jewish people's long history of persecution and migration. It is also a moving tribute to the resiliency of the human spirit, as people repeatedly pick themselves up and begin anew after terrible loss and hardship.

I guess I expected this to be more historical fiction, and less fable. It didn't teach me anything new about history, which I was expecting, but perhaps it did challenge my beliefs about the power of the human mind, the power of a story, and the power of believing in something.

Like "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas", I suspect that this book is going to be really big some day. Looking at war through a fog of child-like innocence does not do anything for me, but it obviously does for some people. I am a realist, and this book was not for me.

Profile Image for Heather.
Author 3 books66 followers
December 20, 2012
I should have known how much I would love this book based on the title alone; isn't it such an awesome, puzzling, and memorable title? The book is awesome, puzzling, and memorable too. As others have pointed out, there are some pretty disturbing things that happen and some things that may seem inexplicable (such as Lena's parents' decision), but I think they are included with a specific purpose in mind (with respect to Lena's parents, perhaps to show the "tribal" influence). My only minor complaint is that the story dragged a tiny bit in places. But let's put that minor issue aside because this is one of those books that can lead you to look at the world around you differently. Ausubel's writing is poetic. People say that a fair amount, and now I sort of regret saying it about some other authors because it's barely true in comparison to Ausubel. The imagery is lovely in places, haunting in others. The concepts are thought-provoking, the religious references described in ways that I want to memorize. And the ending - the ending had me in tears. I was reading it on the treadmill and literally crying. Now that I've finished the book, I've decided it's one that I want to read again - maybe not right away, but definitely sometime.
Profile Image for Erin.
548 reviews32 followers
October 23, 2014
I had a really hard time getting into this book and I even had a hard time staying interested. I did not look forward to picking it up, yet while reading I often felt transfixed. There was such beauty in the melancholic writing. That said, I often put it down because the tears would build up and I was never in the place to let them come. This book is hard to describe. Since my Dad died I haven't found anything written, or heard anything from others regarding "addition and subtraction" which I felt so strongly after my Dad's death. Everything was divided between the two and mostly everything after was subtraction. She put this into words that I don't know if I would have understood before. It was somewhat breathtaking. My heart aches just thinking about this story.
Profile Image for Liz.
221 reviews18 followers
May 8, 2017
I grabbed this book off my shelf after reading The Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty. I didn't realize it was about the Holocaust, so I braced myself for a pretty heavy read. But I found that while this book was indeed devastating, it was an exploration on the Holocaust I had not yet read. Ramona shows how this war tore Jewish families apart in ways I didn't necessarily expect. It was creative and showed the worst and best the humanity has to offer in times of war. It was difficult to read at times, but also difficult to put down.
Profile Image for Nancy.
1,102 reviews409 followers
January 24, 2012
This is the most unique WWII book I have ever read. I don't even know how to review this book. I know I won't forget it.

The book opens in a remote Romanian village after a storm. The villagers collect what was brought down the river as the water recedes and finds a woman. She's alive. She doesn't remember much except that all of her people are gone. The reader assumes her village was destroyed by the Nazis and she is the lone survivor. It is through this experience that the villagers decide to start anew. There is no God but the one they invent. There is no world outside their village. They make their own rules and time becomes irrelevant.

At times the book is beautifully poetic and philosophical. At other times the ridiculousness of the people is glaring. The conclusions are not logical to a person who lives in the bigger society but could be plausible if the group-think were the way the author creates it.

World War II rages around the village but they know nothing of it. Time passes but, since time is irrelevant, the reader has no idea how long until Lena is compelled to leave the village to protect her sons, finding herself safely on the Russian side of the war. She believes she is not safe, she is hunted but being Jewish is not what makes her feel unsafe. Jewishness is no longer part of her world. She is ill-prepared for the bigger society, although her experiences in the village help through some difficult situations.

Lena misses the war. In fact, most of the villagers miss the war. They may not escape the violence at some point in the book, but they wouldn't know why there was violence against them if it were to occur.

I don't know what the point of the book was except to somehow recount a few of the experiences of the author's own ancestors. That said, I would not dismiss this book. It was unique and at times weird, but extremely compelling. I believe there is a lot of symbolism that can be gleaned and transferred to societal pressures. I found the different ways of dealing with difficulty intriguing. One village pretended to be alone in the world, discounting all the rest of civilization and history. One or two couples rewrite their own history to include and justify stealing a child. In fact, rewriting history and the rules of society are justification for a lot of questionable behavior. What one person calls a crime is another person's attempt to make things equal and right.

Do you see how this might be an interesting sociological study?

There is also a character who, because of the war (a very bad thing) decides to accept that something very good came out of it and recreates his life because it is far easier than doing the right thing. Lena herself recreates herself throughout the book and constantly asks, "Who am I?" She is a testament of human resilience.

It's an interesting book. I won't forget it.
Profile Image for Katie.
320 reviews1 follower
February 13, 2012
When Lena is 11 years old, a stranger comes to her village telling stories of the atrocities against Jews. The village decides to re-invent the world, with the stranger as their guide. They are protected by the world's horrors and remain isolated and safe. Lena is given to her Aunt Kayla and Uncle Hersh, who want a child in the new world. Kayla treats Lena like she is a baby and Lena re-lives her first eleven years in eleven weeks. She then surpasses her current age, and becomes an adult and marries Igor. She and Igor have two children and when the second child is born, their village is invaded by outsiders. Igor is captured and held prisoner in Italy and Lena and Solomon, their son, escape. Most of the villagers are murdered but Lena's sister manages survive. On her harsh travels, Lena's baby boy dies and she and Solomon are taken in by a farmer and his wife. They tell her the only way to save her family is to leave Solomon with them and escape to America. Before she leaves, the farmer has sex with her, hoping to give Lena another family. It works, and when she is in America, she gives birth to a baby girl named Chaya. She remains in American with her new life and Igor stays in Italy with his friend the jailer. This is a horrible synopsis but will help me remember what happened. This book is beautifully written and I'd definitely recommend it.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Kirsty.
2,689 reviews177 followers
August 15, 2016
I had hoped that this would be just the book to read to celebrate the finishing and handing in of my MA dissertation, and the beginning of my long-awaited summer holiday. It was. It is one of those which I had a feeling I would love before I even began to read. I did.

No One Is Here Except All of Us is a staggeringly beautiful novel. I adored Ausubel's writing; her dialogue particularly was inventive and original. The novel is, understandably, both incredibly sad and harrowing, but with regard to the wealth of Holocaust and World War Two novels which I have read, it is perhaps the most original. I never wanted it to end. Please, pick up this book. You won't regret it.
Profile Image for PDXReader.
262 reviews76 followers
December 26, 2011
This is one of those books that's impossible to describe. It's not your typical Holocaust memoir, and in fact most of the book revolves around a small village's decision to completely cut itself off from the outside world, thereby avoiding the tragedy around them. It's a bit fantastic and a bit like a fairy tale... including the ogres that appear toward the end.

The main reason I'd recommend reading this novel is simply to enjoy the author's use of words. Her writing is absolutely, heartachingly beautiful. This might be my favorite book of the year.
190 reviews1 follower
April 22, 2012
This was a strange, strange book. There were times when I felt like the author was asking too much, the suspension of disbelief that every author requires of every reader. It was just too much. But therein lies the truth of this book. In 1939, a small Jewish village located on a hidden peninsula in Romania watches as a plane flies overhead and listens as bombs go off on the other side of the mountains. Within hours debris from the other side of the mountain comes floating down the river along with one of it's very much alive citizens. The stranger, a woman, tells the villagers how the soldiers were let loose in her village for 24 unchaperoned hours to do whatever they wanted to before the bombs came. Children were shot, women were mutilated and men were burned alive. The villagers all asked themselves and each other what their people had done to deserve this. Yesterday, they fed the goats, the day before they made an omelette, the week before that, they took a walk. Which of those things caused God to turn his back on them and caused the world to hate them?

The stranger and an 11 year old villager, named Lena, decide that they will just start over. The village is hidden in it's small valley. Very few people know it exists. They will cut off all ties to the outside world and will pretend that the world has started over. Today is the first day of the entire world. There is no history before today. No love, no violence, no loss, no death, no ghosts, no time. There is only today. Some husbands and wives switch spouses. Lena is given away to a childless couple and becomes their "baby". And this is where the book started to lose it for me. Lena's new parents decide they have just had a child and they wrap their 60-pound "baby" up in blankets and carry her around the town square, introducing everyone to their new baby. She is required to act like a baby and all the villagers look at and compliment the new parents on the birth of their baby and comment on how big she is. Lena's parents (both new and old) are doing something terrible to Lena. They are erasing her history and forcing her to start again and everyone in the village plays along. Her adoptive mother is plainly crazy and this charade borders on being abusive. I wondered why these people didn't stand up and do something for this child. Why didn't anyone help her?

And then I realized, this is the entire point of the book. The world stood by for too long and allowed a crazy person to deliver his version of reality - the Jews were responsible for everything bad in the world and should all be killed - and did nothing. The world played along with a charade that didn't make sense to anyone.

Lena's world starts over many times. She gets married, she has children, she flees for her life, she loses her family and her home over and over and finally the war ends. Always, she asks the same questions "Am I still me? Do I still remember?" And always the world answers, "Yes, you are still you. It is still your story."

A beautiful, poetic, disturbing book.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Susan Bright.
121 reviews4 followers
December 19, 2011
On a small peninsula off the northern edge of Romania, in a village so remote that it seemed to be separated from the rest of the world there lived nine Jewish families. Like many villages in the 1939, there was a greengrocer, a jeweler, a farmer, a cabbage picker, a banker, a saddle-maker, a barber, a weaver, and a healer. Although the villagers knew that there was a "man with the square mustache that wanted to remake the world" and knew about what was happening to the Jewish people, in their small secluded world they had always felt safe.

One day, as the villagers gathered in the healer's house, reading an old newspaper, discussing what was going on in the outside world, they heard a low flying plane and heard the loud booming sound of bombs in the distance. When they went out to investigate, to see what kind of damage had been done, they discovered their river banks full of debris that had been washed ashore. A wool hat, a doll with no legs, a sweater, a piece of a piano and .....a woman. The woman, or the stranger as they referred to her filled the villagers in, telling them the horrible things that were happening outside their safe little world. In fact according to the stranger, the world as they knew it was gone.

"We need a story," she told the villagers. "When there is nothing left to do, and there is nowhere else to go, the world begins again."

"There is no before."

Yes, this tiny village decided to start over at Day 1. All of the terrible things they had heard and seen had never happened. It was a new world and there were countless decisions to make. Should husbands and wives stay together? Should children be redistributed? Together they made their own rules and life went on. But it was only a matter of time before the outside world intruded on their reality.

What a fascinating premise! No One Is Here Except All Of Us is a beautifully written novel. Ramona Ausubel's grandmother was born in a small village in the Carpthian Mountains and often told her "fables" about a young girl growing up during World War 1. No One Is Her Except All Of Us actually reads like a fable or perhaps a fairy tale, although not necessarily with a happily ever after ending. It is an imaginative story and would make a fascinating book club book. I would love to have someone to discuss it with!

November 13, 2014
4/11 - A bit weird and slow, I'm not sure if I like it or not. I'll continue reading for now.

13/11 - This wasn't for me. It was just too weird. I was expecting the story of a town hiding from the horror of WWII and the Nazis, what I got was the story of an 11-year-old girl who is 'given' to her maternal aunt, who has been unable to have children, because her mother already has 'enough' children and it's not fair to have three children while some have none.

After the arrival of a stranger (who no one but the reader knows was forced to watch her whole family being slaughtered by the Nazis), the town (which I think is located somewhere in rural Poland) comes to the decision to cut themselves off from the rest of the world in order to keep themselves safe from the Nazis. They also decide to 'start the world over again' and make it as if the rest of the world doesn't exist, has never existed, it's the first day of the world and nothing existed before. This gives the childless aunt the perfect opportunity to ask for one of her sister's children, so that this new world that they've created is fair and equal. All this aunt has ever wanted is a baby, not a child a baby, so when the chosen child, Lena, is delivered to her new 'parents' her 'mother' decides that she is a new born baby who has to be cared for as such - including the use of freshly squeezed breast milk to feed her (that scene was when I first started to go "Uh uh, I don't think this is for me."). I just couldn't relate the idea of this tiny (only 102 inhabitants) town's desire to keep themselves safe from the horrors of the rest of Europe with making it okay for one unfortunately childless couple to take another couple's child, in order to raise her as their own. How does that fit with their goal of making a perfect world? For me it didn't, it just seemed to add to the horror of the era. DNF at page 150.
Profile Image for Erin.
80 reviews2 followers
April 24, 2012
This was one of the most random books I have read in a while. I appreciated the topic, I greatly enjoyed her literary style and writing, and once I was reading it was hard to stop. However none of those thing added up to actually enjoying the book. The characters were fairly unbelievable as well as unlikable. I can appreciate and like a character with flaws but these "human" flaws were generally unrealistic and bizarre. I gave it a chance until a major part of the story involved a grown woman "adopting" an 11 year old child who she treats like a newborn and tries to nurse her. Yikes. After that I was just sort of pushing through without much concern for the people in the story or the tragedies in their lives.
Strangely, since it is a book about Jewish people trying to escape the effects of the Holocaust, I had very little sympathy or concern for their plight. I also quite often forgot they were Jewish. The concept was a great one, trying to escape a horrendous experience by hiding, creating a new world for yourself, and relearning what it means to have a God, a family, a world, an existence. But beyond the concept and the poetic writing style I don't feel there is much to recommend.
Profile Image for Natalie.
151 reviews176 followers
October 28, 2012
Hands down, the best book I have read this year, and probably one of the most exquisite books I have read in my life.

I was glued to its pages, awe struck by the perfection of its prose, losing count of the sentences so piercing that they made me weep.

What talent this woman possesses: extraordinary.

Read it. Then make everyone you know read it.
Profile Image for Keely.
791 reviews10 followers
June 14, 2019
In the early days of World War II, the river that nearly surrounds the tiny peninsular village of Zalischik, Romania, overflows its banks, bringing with it a half-drowned woman. Once revived, she tells the story of her own Jewish family and others being rounded up and murdered. She only narrowly escaped herself. In the face of this horror, the Jewish villagers of Zalischik make a very unusual decision. They decide to cut themselves off entirely from the outside world and start over, inventing a new story and faith for themselves, shedding memories and technologies that used to connect them to the larger world, and pretending like their village is all they know. This suggestion is made by eleven-year-old Lena, who is the book's main character. If this sounds utterly bizarre, well, it is, but as it turns out, it's well worth hanging in there to experience how it all turns out. The village is able to continue its isolated, reinvented existence for years. The warring world seems to have forgotten about them, too. The rescued woman, always referred to as the stranger, becomes a sort of rabbi, hearing everyone's prayers and officiating at weddings. Unbeknownst to the villagers, she also intercepts all incoming mail, which helps to keep them cut off and preserve their collective fantasy. Meanwhile, a childless couple asks for Lena to become their daughter, and because there are no rules anymore, her birth parents agree. Lena goes to live with her new parents, who at first treat her as their baby, then quickly accelerate her through all the stages of childhood, and marry her off rather early. Lena becomes a wife and mother herself. All this while, it keeps raining and raining, almost as though the rain is magically cloaking the village. But somehow, Zalischik doesn't flood or sink. It's only when the war comes crashing in at last, which it inevitably does, that the spell is finally broken. Soldiers come, Lena flees, the dreamlike story the villagers had been telling themselves falls apart piece by piece, and the flood waters come rushing in at last.

It took me a while to get into this book, because it is so strange. But it's strange and beautiful. As a reader, I had to suspend a lot of disbelief and just go with it. I'm so glad I did, because I ended up loving it. The writing is so gorgeous, it's almost like a novel-length poem. Not surprisingly, the story includes a lot of awful, violent, and heartbreaking moments, but I liked the way Ausubel handles these. Ultimately, the story ends on a hopeful, redemptive note. To me, this seemed to confirm what the villagers of Zalischik apparently knew all along--that life is all about the stories we tell ourselves.
Profile Image for Noa.
190 reviews8 followers
January 17, 2018
De titel, de thema's, de plek waar dit vandaan komt - uit de verhalen van Ausubels voorouders - en het concept van dit boek zijn zo mooi en zwaar dat ik me bijna schuldig voel dat ik het geen goed boek vond. Het begon als een boek met interessante manieren van het inzetten van taal om je te doen nadenken over iets, maar het mondde uit in de ene bizarre taalspeling op de andere, en ik heb een hele lage drempel voor wat overkomt als 'kijk mij eens mooi schrijven dan'-geschrijf. Geen enkele van de personages had een eigen geluid, niets van wat de personages zeiden of deden kwam geloofwaardig over - niet dat ik dat weet want ik heb natuurlijk geen oorlog meegemaakt, maar ook voor de oorlog hen bereikte was het eerder maf dan aangrijpend door de pure hoeveelheid aan overdreven vreemde taal zonder afwisseling om het mee te contrasteren. Ik begrijp en waardeer waarom veel mensen lovend zijn over dit boek, maar bij mij kwam het niet aan. Wel een boek gevonden voor de vrije indirecte rede-opdracht van de 24e dus dat is goed of zo.
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