No One is Here Except All of Us by Ramona Ausubel
Goodreads: 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.
My take: 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.