“Even though you have only been alive a few days, your story, our story, started a long time ago. Ours is a story I know, both the parts I saw with my eyes and the parts I did not. This kind of knowing comes from somewhere in my bones, somewhere in my heart. Someday, your children will ask what happened, and you will tell a new version, and this way, the story will keep living. The truth is in the telling.” Ramona Ausubel, NO ONE IS HERE EXCEPT ALL OF US
NO ONE IS HERE EXCEPT ALL OF US, by Ramona Ausubel, was published on February 5th and is 405 pages. I received a review copy from the publisher, Riverhead/Penguin, for consideration, and I’m glad I did. It was a heartbreaking literary masterpiece.
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.