Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Let's Pretend

One of my favorite games to play when I was a kid was "let's pretend."  Whether it was imagining that the playhouse in the backyard was a homestead on the windswept prairies of my native Nebraska or pretending that the slide was a aircraft dropping my friends and me behind enemy lines, we created our own worlds.  Sometimes the lines between the world of make-believe and the real world were blurred, so that we almost, at times, forgot which one was really real.

No One is Here Except All of Us may be described as a very, very high-stakes game of make believe.  When faced with the horrible reality of the Second World War, the Jewish citizens of a remote Romanian village decide to cope by recreating their own world.  They imagine that nothing exists beyond the confines of their own village, that they are the whole of creation.  The villagers decide by vote what aspects of the former world will be allowed to continue (such as language and most possessions), and which may be re-negotiated (marriage and family relationships), and which are done away with altogether (clocks, type-writers). 

We are given access to this world through the eyes of two main characters.  One is, like the reader, a stranger, and outsider who finds herself literally washed up in this world from the outside.  She is instrumental both in the creation of the new world and in trying to keep the outside world at bay.  The other is an eleven-year-old girl whose life and identity are turned upside down when she is "re-born" as the daughter of her childless aunt and uncle.

For a time, the villagers are able to carry on in their world of make-believe, insulated from the wider world, the "real" world by geography and the efforts of the stranger. Of course, the "real" world has a way of asserting itself.  Inevitably, the world of make-believe created by the villages to protect themselves from the horrors of war comes crashing down. Even so, and even though we all know that such games of make-believe must end, the space created by Ausubel for her characters can also provide the reader with a brief reprieve from reality.  And perhaps, having spent some time in the quirky yet beautiful and thoughtful world that the author creates, we can find inspiration to better face our own realities. 

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