February 13, 2013

Book Review: No One Is Here Except All of Us

I...like books about the Holocaust.

Ok, that's an instance in which "like" is absolutely the wrong word.

I...read books about the Holocaust. Always have, always will. I feel like it's my job to learn as much as possible so I can continue to share its stories. It's a way of preserving history, and my own cultural heritage.

No One is Here Except All Of Us
Riverhead Hardcover
February 2, 2012
336 pages
Typically, I only read non-fiction, with the notable exception of Jonathan Safran Foer's novel Everything Is Illuminated. That's one of my favorite books.

But when I heard of a book that told the tale of a tiny Jewish village that decides to recreate their world to attempt to escape Hitler's Nazis, well, I had to have it.


No One Is Here Except All of Us, by Ramona Ausubel, is that book. And it is gorgeous. Rich. Lyrical and heartbreaking and magical. 

So much so it sometimes hurt to read.

Set in the Carpathian Mountains of Romania in the late 1930s, it's narrated by Lena, an eleven year old daughter of a cabbage picker. She lives with her family in a remote village that sits on a piece of land around which a river swirls.

When the people of the village pluck a stranger from the river one fateful night, they learn for the first time of Hitler's war, and of the utter and absolute destruction rained down by his soldiers over Jewish settlements throughout eastern Europe. The stranger has lost everything: her husband, her children, her parents, her home. She is embryonic, literally pulled naked from the rushing waters to begin anew.

And so the villagers decide to start their world anew, too, all in the name of saving the stranger, and themselves. They recreate everything...and nothing. Because it doesn't work. In the end, they are still a Jewish village facing Hitler's armies.

But they try, and we get to watch.

We meet nameless characters defined by their roles in life - the baker, the barber, the banker, the cabbage picker.  Their roles are timeless, unchanging, even in their new world.

We see the first birth in the village, and the first death. We taste the impossible choices faced by people living in an impossible time. 

We see the end come once, and then again, and then again.

We see terrifying journeys into the unknown. 

We see the power of nature, but also its weakness. Rain can wash away blood, a river can wash away pieces of a village, but none of it can erase the history, the pain.

We see the absurdity of life, but also its continuity.

We see happiness. We see devastation.

And through it all, we see hope.

The Holocaust is unfathomable. I've read dozens of books about it, and I still can't wrap my head around its enormity.

No One Is Here Except All of Us paints a small enough picture that the devastation feels close, intimate, and that, alone, makes it heartbreaking.


I used to want to write a Holocaust novel, back before I found my home writing horror and sci-fi. I wanted to write a story of a girl, and the choices she made to survive, how it almost killed her, but how she prevailed.

I entertained plans of writing that story as recently as last month, when I revisited some of my old notes.

I no longer need to write that book. Ramona Ausubel has done it for me, and the results are better than I ever could have imagined.

That's how good this book is.

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