While Gentiles experience and process the world through the traditional senses, and use memory only as a second-order means of interpreting events, for Jews memory is no less primary than the prick of a pin, or its silver glimmer, or the taste of the blood it pulls from the finger. The Jew is pricked by a pin and remembers other pins. It is only by tracing the pinprick back to other pinpricks — when his mother tried to fix his sleeve while his arm was still in it, when his grandfather’s fingers fell asleep from stroking his great-grandfather’s damp forehead, when Abraham tested the knife point to be sure Isaac would feel no pain — that the Jew is able to know why it hurts.
When a Jew encounters a pin, he asks: What does it remember like?
— Jonathan Safran Foer, Everything Is Illuminated
RIVER, GOAT, RAIN, CHILD, Cabbage, Mother, Mustard, Stranger, Letter, Compass, Letter, Letter, Star: How easy it is, from a string of nouns, to pick out a constellation, a story. Identity itself often seems this kind of narrative, daisy-chained from a million disparate moments, objects, emotions. Who we are, as Ramona Ausubel puts it in her debut novel, No One Is Here Except All of Us, can almost be summed up by the physical things we know are real around us, a pinprick connecting us to a history of pins.
Ausubel’s is a novel of almost remembering, a story of remnants and skeletons and the stitching together of now from the flotsam of then. “This book is about what we pass on,” Ausubel writes in her author’s note, “and the right of the next generation to keep telling the story long after the facts have melted away and what is left is truth, glittering in a sky deep and dark enough to hold everything lost, everything saved.” Those four words might have provided Ausubel a title: her novel is stuffed with things simultaneously lost and saved — those saved by virtue of their lost-ness, and those lost in the act of becoming saved.