No One Is Here Except All of Us

By – April 3, 2012

It’s 1939 and the inhab­i­tants of a remote Roman­ian Jew­ish vil­lage, Zalis­chik, are grow­ing more aware of the impend­ing dan­ger from the expand­ing Euro­pean war. On a rain-soaked day, a stranger, the sole sur­vivor of a Nazi pogrom in her own vil­lage, wash­es up on their river’s edge, and the vil­lagers’ false sense of iso­la­tion from the world is halted.

Soon the stranger and Lena, a sen­si­tive and spir­i­tu­al eleven-year-old girl, jolt the vil­lagers to start their world anew. Naive­ly believ­ing they can rewrite his­to­ry, the com­mu­ni­ty vows to build a new tem­ple, des­ig­nate new reli­gious lead­ers, swap wives if nec­es­sary, and even give away their chil­dren in the name of rebirth. The con­se­quences are spir­i­tu­al­ly arrest­ing and iden­ti­ty-alter­ing. Before long Lena becomes a vic­tim of the new world she helped cre­ate, her pre­vi­ous iden­ti­ty forcibly shed in the name of com­mu­nal rebirth.

Ramona Ausubel’s No One Is Here Except All Of Us reads at once like a fable, a dream, a poem, and a prayer. The result is breath­tak­ing in both its exquis­ite­ness and its hor­ror. Lena’s sto­ry is unfor­get­table in the way it evokes parts of our lives today, as we all, at times, expe­ri­ence our own tragedies. Read­ers will fight for Lena and her vil­lage to per­se­vere through the dark­est of moments, and mean­while remind them­selves that the answer is always, one way or anoth­er, to choose life.

Hei­di Sax is a mar­ket­ing pro­fes­sion­al, spe­cial­iz­ing in the fash­ion indus­try. Orig­i­nal­ly from the Chica­go area, Hei­di has a Bach­e­lor’s Degree in Eng­lish from Emory Uni­ver­si­ty and resides in New York City.

Discussion Questions

1. In the open­ing of the nov­el, Lena says to Chaya in her let­ter maybe, when the world began, every­thing had been clean and pure.” When the vil­lagers start their world over, does the world begin clean and pure” or are the seeds of its destruc­tion built into its founding?

2. When the vil­lagers start their world over, they begin with sto­ry­telling. What impor­tance does sto­ry­telling have for the nov­el? What is its pow­er? How do each of the char­ac­ters employ sto­ry­telling? What do these uses tell you about each character?

3. One of the bonds that is the most tran­sient in the nov­el is that between par­ent and child. How does the author depict this bond? Think about the sit­u­a­tions in which chil­dren are trans­ferred in the nov­el: do you think the par­ents were right to let their chil­dren be adopt­ed by oth­ers? What do you think about the moti­va­tions of the adop­tive parents?

4. What is the stranger’s role in the re-cre­ation of the world? Do you think the vil­lagers could have done it with­out her? Why do you think she decides to help pro­tect the vil­lage from the out­side world? What even­tu­al­ly makes her allow it back in?

5. Igor is the only char­ac­ter who gets cap­tured, yet his impris­on­ment ends up insur­ing his safe­ty, while the char­ac­ters who remain free” must fight for their own sur­vival. What does this say about the con­cept of free­dom? In this nov­el, is per­son­al choice a gift, a bur­den, or both?

6. With the rein­ven­tion of the world, time gets upend­ed. Lena is made to grow up at an unusu­al rate. Do you think she real­ly does age faster? Do you think she and the oth­er vil­lagers real­ize the truth but allow Hersh and Kay­la to believe their own sto­ry? What about when Lena does get mar­ried and bears a child — has the sto­ry about her aging process had a real and actu­al effect?

7. How do you think Lena knows what hap­pened to the oth­er char­ac­ters? Con­sid­er­ing the role that imag­i­na­tion and sto­ry­telling play in the nov­el, does it mat­ter whether Lena has out­side infor­ma­tion? Would that make her ver­sion any more or less true?

8. Many unfair things hap­pen to Lena dur­ing the course of the book. From her par­ents giv­ing her away, to los­ing her sons. How does she cope? Do you think she for­gives the oth­er char­ac­ters? What role does for­give­ness play in the novel?

9. What do you think the title No One is Here Except All of Us means?

10. In the end of the book, Lena writes to Chaya, Some­day, your chil­dren will ask what hap­pened, and you will tell a new ver­sion, and in this way, the sto­ry will keep liv­ing. Truth is not in facts. The truth is in the telling.” What do you think she means by this? Is there a dif­fer­ence between truth and accuracy?