Photo by Teo Grossman courtesy VCU Cabell Library
As a young girl, Ramona Ausubel delighted in listening to her grandmother tell stories from her upbringing in Romania. "What captivated me about my grandmother's stories was how unreal they seemed," says Ausubel, 34, recalling tales of the village healer who filled wounds with cobwebs and prescribed riding over a certain bridge on horseback to heal a cough.
When she was 23, the Santa Fe, N.M., native traveled to New York with a tape recorder on a mission to document her grandmother's stories. The result — after eight years of writing — is Ausubel's debut novel, No One Is Here Except All of Us. The book is a fictionalized version of her family's fables. "Facts are great, but for the experience to stay alive, it has to be reimagined with each generation," she says.
On Nov. 19, Ausubel will accept the 2013 VCU Cabell First Novelist Award. A panel of judges selected the winning novel out of nearly 140 national submissions.
Heralded by the Huffington Post and the San Francisco Chronicle as one of the best books of the year, No One Is Here Except All of Us is narrated by 11-year-old Lena, the youngest daughter of a cabbage farmer who lives in a remote Jewish Romanian village at the start of World War II. "The characters cut themselves off from the world when they realize that it's a terribly dangerous place and they won't survive in it," Ausubel says. "They realize that the only territory that's safe is in the imagination."
Starting with the reinvention of the origins of God and man, the villagers create a self-contained society with new ideas of community, time, identity and destiny. "As I wrote through deeply sad stories, I found that hope was in the telling," Ausubel says on her website.
The First Novelist Award ceremony at the VCU Student Commons is free to attend and will include a reading by Ausubel, followed by a discussion with her editor and agent. 828-0593 or firstnovelist.vcu.edu .