Publisher: Riverhead Books
Genre: Historical Fiction
"Ausubel's style is arrestingly beautiful, even as the story is devastatingly sad. Not quite magical realism, it’s fantastic in the way of traditional European Jewish folklore where miracles and mysteries balance out pain and sorrow. It’s hard to overstate the power of this book, which takes on a familiar subject in a completely original way." Sarah Rachel Egelman, Book Reporter
Ramona Ausubel grew up in Santa Fe, New Mexico, a world and a lifetime away from the atrocities of World War Two. Yet stories of how her family survived the war piqued her interest and her imagination and became the cornerstone for her debut novel, No One Is Here Except All of Us. It tells the story of a how a small Jewish Community bands together to survive the war, by imagining they are the only people in existence.
Ausubel graduated with an MFA from The University of California, Irvine where she won the Glenn Schaeffer Award in Fiction and served as editor of Faultline Journal of Art & Literature.
Ausubel's work has been published in The New Yorker, One Story, The Paris Review Daily, The Best American Fantasty and elsewhere and has received special mentions in The Best American Short Stories, The Best American Non Required Reading, and was a finalist for the Puschcart Prize.
Ausubel's debut novel is soon to be followed with her collection of short stories, A Guide to Being Born. I was really looking forward to interviewing Ramona, to find out about what led her to write No On Is Here Except All of Us.
1. Can you briefly explain your impetus for writing 'No One is Here Except All of Us'?
I grew up hearing amazing stories from my grandmother about our family. She was born in Romania, and though she came to U.S. as a child, her parents still talked about the old country and their life there. During WWI, my great-grandmother had escaped the latest pogroms with her children, surviving on tree-bark and not much else for years. Meanwhile, my great-grandfather had been taken to Italy as a Prisoner-of-War, which turned out to be the best three years of his life. It was warm, the people were nice, the food was good. He stayed for a year after his release because it was so wonderful there. I had those stories in my head, but I wanted to know more and since the people who were there were no longer alive, I decided to imagine my way in.
2. How long did it take you to research and write the book?
It took eight years from the beginning to the end, though I wasn’t working exclusively on the novel the whole time. I’d write obsessively for a few months, give up for a while and then come back again later. I was also teaching and working on a collection of short stories at the same time called A Guide to Being Born, which should be out next year.
3. Your book is about a Jewish community in a Romanian village in 1939, trying to work out how they can survive the war. What did you learn about the importance of community?
When thinking about death and destruction on the scale of the Holocaust, I came to feel that hope was in collective survival. Though some do not make it, life itself, the life of the whole, goes on.
4. You have said your book is about, "Faith, the loss of faith, life and the end of life, freedom and imprisonment". Can you share what you learnt about these things in the writing of the book?
That’s a big question! I wish I could sum up what I know about faith, death and freedom in a few sentences. Asking questions about those things was one of the things that made me want to write this book, and one of the things that kept me going deeper and deeper for all those years. Those questions alone could probably keep me writing for many books to come.
5. War is about deeming one ideology superior and seeking to quash or eradicate the opposing views, as if killing people will kill their ideas. What did you learn about the power of worldviews through the writing of your book?
Though the book does take place during a terrible moment in which one person’s worldview changed the course of history and of many, many lives, most of the story is on a much smaller scale. Very often, I think we turn inward and keep ourselves protected (or at least distracted) from the big unfolding events. That’s why, in this book, the characters go so far as to write the rest of the world out of the story and believe only in their little corner of the globe.
6. In some countries, the Holocaust is not taught as an historical event. What do you think will be the consequence for humanity in denying history?
It can’t be good, can it?
7. Growing up, did you identify as being Jewish as a personal religious experience, or did you see it more as a family cultural heritage?
My great-grandparents were very religious, but my grandparents were not and my dad was even less so. It wasn’t until I was older, maybe twelve or so, that my Jewish background meant anything to me. It continues to matter to me, though I would not consider myself very religious.
8. In terms of worldview, what do you believe and is it different from the worldview you were brought up with?
I think my worldview probably hasn’t changed that much from the way I was raised: be kind, tell the truth, appreciate the beauty, don’t skip over the hard parts, try to show up with cookies whenever possible, eat well.
9. What is in your 'too hard' basket?
Running. I just can’t make myself keep going after I get tired.
10. Ramona's Favourite:
Book: Impossible question! Three books that come to mind this instant that I love (this would change next time you asked) The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon, Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner.
Film: The Wizard of Oz, Best in Show, The Princess Bride
Music: Bob Dylan, Tom Waits
Motto: Get fascinated.
Charity: My grandmother (the other side of the family from the Romanians) founded an artists’ and writers’ colony called Ragdale, outside of Chicago. It’s a wonderful place where people go to work for several weeks at a time and I’m so proud of her for creating it.
Reading about Ausubel's novel kindled in me a spark of hope; that not everyone relegates history to the archives. There is much to learn about humanity even from imagining how people coped with their reality. As Mark Twain said, "The past does not repeat itself, but it rhymes."
Think. Write. Share.