Good­bye, East­ern Europe: An Inti­mate His­to­ry of a Divid­ed Land

  • Review
By – July 17, 2023

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. 

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