Tightrope – A Book Review
Tightrope is a historical telling of one family’s journey through six centuries of the evolution of a people and the societies which they inhabited. Michael Karpin’s thorough and explicit detail allows the reader to feel as though he or she is simply tracking the stages of this particular family’s life. I am intrigued by Karpin’s ability to tell a story of the past as though he watched it unfold. The difficulties and challenges he surely must have faced while gathering information are hardly noted.
The survival of the Backenroth family is astonishing to observe as they maneuver through the Black Death and Jewish persecution to create empires of success for their relations. Strong leaders within the family led the Backenroths toward safe communities and solid business decisions that often meant the family had to evacuate one area and settle in another. The Backenroth’s frequently settled in undeveloped and poverty-stricken lands, only to make significant contributions that allowed those places to flourish.
This family’s experience is a reflection of the progression of Jewish religion and faith as impacted by poverty, anti-Semitism, World War II and additional peaks and valleys throughout history. Not only externally, but within the family, one is able to observe the happenstances that impact an individual’s religious observance, their desire to remain or leave a particular land, and the decisions they make regarding their personal relationships.
I was particularly taken by the genius of Naftali Backenroth-Bronicki. He seemed to go with the ebbs and tides that life brought his way. His strategic thinking and persuasive abilities cushioned his family from and led them through many potential disasters. He was clever and influential and operated – always – with integrity and others in mind.
How amazing it would be if we could all trace our ancestral roots back as thoroughly as Michael Karpin did for the Backenroth family. Empty spaces we did not even know existed would be filled in. Alas, many of our families did not face the high-numbered successful escapes from the Nazis as the Backenroth family did.
Six centuries in less than four hundred pages is an accomplishment. I would recommend reading with a notebook by your side so that you can create your own Backenroth family tree. I have a difficult time keeping track of names and places so a more detailed map of the family and their whereabouts would have been very helpful to me.
The history of the Jewish people – before, during and after the Holocaust – continues to have an impact on Jewish daily life. Michael Karpin provides an essential piece of historical documentation that any student of Jewish history should be required to read. In fact, it should be a mandatory read for all Jewish people.
While I am not a lover of history and have a hard time remembering historical facts, this book kept me engaged, interested, and inspired.
I believe I was sent this book in order to review it several years ago. I am republishing this review because I felt the book was a worthwhile read.
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