Thursday, 4 January 2018

No One Is Here Except All of Us

Finished January 3
No One Is Here Except All of Us by Ramona Ausubel

This novel feels so different from to me from the typical first person narratives. The speaker, Lena is a preteen girl in Zalischik, a small Jewish village in northern Romania. The year is 1939. The prologue sets the beginning scene for us. The villagers know of the impending war threatening them, of the pogroms, the hatred, but feel apart from it. The story begins on a Friday, late in the day. A storm has begun. At the evening service, the healer shows the newspaper from a few weeks earlier declaring war and calling for the extermination of Jews. The prayers begin and then a small silver airplane passes over once, then twice. The villagers clutch each other in worry, as an explosion goes off in the nearby mountains. The prayers continue, and the villagers wait. In the morning they go to the river, and find many fish in the raised waters, and then as the waters recede other objects: teapots, part of a piano, clothing, bowls, a doll, and a woman. And the woman is alive. The villagers take her in, feed her and warm her and question her. What happened they ask, and in her stilted statements find the terrorizing actions of soldiers, the escape of the river. She is now their stranger.
Lena speaks of this moment as a hinge, where all the past has led to this moment, a hinge between past and future. The past is described quickly, their village the haven from the last pogrom for this small batch of people. They talk and talk about what to do. Lena and the stranger declare the need to start over. They understand each other. The stranger says, "When there is nothing left to do and there is nowhere else to go, the world begins again." Lena clarifies, "No one exists but us and God? Everything is still to come?" And the answer is affirmative.
The village begins a new world, alone. They regroup, rearrange themselves. Some choose new partners, some choose new families. and life goes on, but in a way they define as they go, The stranger takes steps to ensure the cutoff from the outside world is complete. Life continues in a new way for days, months, years.
Until at some point the external world intrudes, and they know that this intrusion will not be the last. And Lena flees the village, hoping to find her young husband, taken by the intruders, and save her young children from the threats in the world outside.
The writing is lyrical, with a feel of magic realism to it. The situation is both one we know and one we don't know. The future is uncertain. This is a book I read slowly, savouring the writing, uncertain that I wanted to know what was coming. Highly recommended.

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