No One is Here Except All of Us
In the small Jewish shtetl of Zalischik, Romania, life is quiet and predictable. The 100 or so residents of the riverside village have their jobs to do: growing cabbage, selling jewelry, keeping track of the money in the bank. But in 1939, after keeping danger at bay for so long, a threat greater than they can imagine is moving closer and closer. One day they hear bombs falling close by, and later a woman they don't know washes up on the shore of the river. The stranger tells them about the violence she witnessed and how her husband and children were murdered and her town destroyed. The people of Zalischik, inspired by the Stranger's story and encouraged by the imagination of an 11-year-old girl named Lena, decide that, to save themselves and find peace, they must build the world anew.
"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."
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 on February 2, 2012