I'm having such a hard time writing a review for this book because it was both a beautiful book to read and a painful book to read at the same time. It reads more like poetry than prose and has a sort of dreamlike quality to it. The "Us" alluded to in the title is the collective population of a small Jewish village who decides to cut themselves off from the world immediately prior to World War II. They reinvent the world (the new one that only contains them) with new memories, new rules, a new religion, and sometimes even new families (a couple of wives swap husbands or children).
I had a hard time believing that everyone in the village could possibly be of the same mind. Yes, we'll take in a stranger and have her be our confessor rather than adhering to our old religion. Yes, you can take my child if you want to and then bring her back for a different one. Yes, I'll marry off my 10-year-old daughter to assuage your grief. Yes, we'll all speak simple sentences and walk around as if in a dream. Yes, we'll all agree to get rid of our radios and not try to get messages out in the mail. I think that it was the complete passivity of the characters of the book just allowing things to happen that really got to me. The 2 main characters of the book allow the ultimate in passivity to destroy their entire family, and then they seem just fine with that choice in the end. I suppose that this is part of the sad beauty of the story.
This does seem like one of the must-read books of the year. The author does a great job with memorable characters and scenarios. And the writing is gorgeous. However, I want to say that I'm really growing weary of reading books that hit the emotional button of killing off babies. It seems that I can't find a book lately without a dead baby, and this one has two. Granted, this book has an excuse for it since it's historically based on stories the author heard from within her family. Still, it brings the book down for me from a 5-star book to a 4-star book.