If you love history, and consider yourself a true history buff, Jacob Mikanowski’s new book will captivate you and introduce you to an almost forgotten place and time. While it may not be a Jewish book, its subject matter — the tumultuous history of what was once called Eastern Europe — certainly contains a Jewish story.
Mikanowski’s approach to storytelling is unique. Instead of presenting a straightforward historical account, he tells the stories of the different groups that made up Eastern Europe. This masterful fusion of fact and folklore takes readers on a mesmerizing journey, allowing them to gain a deeper understanding of the region’s cultural heritage.
One of the most remarkable aspects of Goodbye, Eastern Europe is how Mikanowski integrates his own family history into the larger historical narrative. He writes that “this book is not a family history, but my family’s history forms a braid running throughout it” because “my ancestors are at the root of everything I write.” By relating his family’s connections to the region, he lends a sense of intimacy and emotional resonance to the story. This personal touch introduces us to specific ancestors and highlights the profound impact that historical events can have on families and individuals, making the book more relatable and engaging.
Mikanowski presents complex historical concepts in a way that adult readers of all backgrounds can understand. His vivid descriptions transport the reader to different eras, immersing them in the sights, sounds, and emotions of Eastern Europe’s past. A meticulous researcher, Mikanowski demonstrates an impressive amount of knowledge about Eastern European history. He covers a wide range of topics — including the rise and fall of empires, struggles for independence, and the impact of communism — with nuance and attention to detail.
While the book may be a little tedious for those not as invested in history, Goodbye, Eastern Europe is a must-read for anyone who is passionate about the past. It teaches you like no classroom history lesson ever could.
Madison Jackson lives in Pittsburgh, PA and is the Director of Jewish Student Life at Carnegie Mellon University. She received her Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Nonfiction Writing from Chatham University, and her Bachelor of Arts degree in Judaic Studies and English from Binghamton University.