Enrico Fink takes on the persona of Riccardo Rotstein (think of an Ashkenazy John Doe) in order to tell his personal story and that of the Jewish communities of a vast area between Galicia, Bessarabia (or on the current map, Poland, Russia, the Ukraine, Romania), and Ferrara, Fink and his character's native town in Italy.
Through this wild ride of happiness, tradition, sadness, kitsch, exuberance, glamour and bliss, through words and music (both wonderfully translated in English and annotated in the booklet) Fink takes us by the hand and shows us that magical Old Europe. A place where Muslims were kind to Jews (the Ottoman Turks to the Sephardic communities), a land where many different Jewish languages were spoken and different traditions of Judaism were carried out. This was also a world were matchmakers were working their art and people were being kind to just-arriving immigrants (the Jewish community of Ferrara to the Ashkenazy fleeing the pogroms up North), where the "bad guys" had names we would all be able to pronounce. This is also what Fink calls a reconstruction. You can also call it a fable, a make-believe tale, a myth.
Although it's almost impossible to treat this record as anything other than a spoken word album, the music is wonderful. Follow the text, listen to the different songs and tunes and chants, imagine this magical land that was the same for Jews, Slavs, Turks and Greeks (and many more) but that everybody saw differently. It is something we have lost in our times, killed by the liberating notion of the nation-state.
And after the magic, there is the pain and the sorrow. What would a Jewish tale be without pain and sorrow? A Hollywood blockbuster, I suppose, but a far less truthful tale. So that part is here, although not the one we all know so well, the near caricature of the dark Nazi years. It is an earlier story, of the silent torture that gave rise to the Great Exodus to Amerika.
There is a lot to enjoy in this record. For those who are unaware of the subtle hues inherent in the Jewish European traditions (which now mainly flourish on the east coast of America, says Fink) this could act as a great entry point, as it clarifies the differences between the Ashkenazy and the Sephardics, speaking Yiddish or Yinglish, or what it means to be playing klezmer and living in shtetls. There is also a lot to enjoy for those who know far more about those traditions. The musicianship is excellent, the story is fascinating, Fink's soothing and evocative voice is that of a great story teller and the characters are quite cinematic in their banality. It is a tale from times that we've heard of, but can never imagine in their complexity and their incongruity; a fascinating tale that starts with a name as common as Rotstein. - Nondas Kitsos, RootsWorld