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Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2011-11-14
- Reviewer: Staff
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.)
A village of reinvention
Tales about the Second World War are so popular in modern fiction that the risk of running across a stale story keeps rising. It takes a very fresh perspective, a very particular voice, to tell a new tale of that era of broken lives and crumbling nations. Ramona Ausubel is one of those voices, and with her debut novel she’s managed to weave a WWII story that is utterly revolutionary.
Rather than tackle the war with the drama and epic proportion of a battle chronicle, or the heartbreak of a Holocaust drama, Ausubel draws inspiration from her own family history, setting No One Is Here Except All of Us in a remote Jewish village in Romania. The world is insulated, comfortable, even magical in its simplicity. Then one day a bombshell literally drops into the midst of it, and the villagers realize the world outside is growing ever more tumultuous.
At the suggestion of a mysterious stranger and a young villager named Lena, the villagers decide to literally pray away the world outside. They allow the one road that connects them to the rest of the world to grow over with vines and brambles, remaking themselves as a pocket universe.
Lena vividly narrates as the villagers re-examine their society, reassign their lives and attempt to make the world truly new. But slowly, the outside world begins to encroach, and in one startling moment, Lena finds herself confronted with the world’s violence, and must make a choice that will change everyone’s future.
Though the concept alone is enough of a hook, the true magic of the novel is in Ausubel’s prose. She weaves complex, thrilling imagery with the deft hand of a master. With its combination of fairy-tale flair and heartbreaking realism, No One Is Here Except All of Us has earned a place among this year’s most compelling and unique debut novels.