Michael Karpin wrote this saga of the Backenroth family upon a request of the Brazilian-born businessman Allan Kahane in 1987 to write the life story of his family. Their story starts in Germany in 1350, when they escaped from persecutions and the bubonic plague and settled in Galicia. It ends in the 1980’s in Brazil, Israel, and the United States where different branches of the family settled down after World War II.
Karpin’s sources consist of general history of the Galician Jews and particular accounts of persecutions on the one hand and Jewish achievements in the oil industry, on the other. He also relies on newspapers, official records, letters, personal diaries, handed-down genealogies, and interviews. Most of the history of the family until the end of the 19th century is based on family lore woven into the general history of Jewish Galicia without much detail. But during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a period for which more recorded personal documents and interviews are available, the family story becomes more detailed and biographical. The real story of the Backenroths starts with Abraham the Tavern Keeper (b. 1720), continues with his great-grandson (1852 – 1934) who married Haya Heller (1863 – 1893), and ends with Hanna Backenroth-Sobel and her husband Israel Kahane and with Naftali Backenroth- Bronicki through the Holocaust period in Russia and Galicia and after the war. Interwoven with the main family story are tales about other Backenrothes, such as Leopold Weiss, who converted to Islam and became Muhammad Asad.
Tightrope combines popular history with family lore and personal memoirs. Karpin tends to use the memoirs told by his subjects without reliability checks or interpretations.
Bibliography, family charts, index, maps, notes, photographs.