A compendium of elegy, emotive description, and thorough research capturing past and present Jewish life in East-Central Europe. Freelance journalist Gruber (Rescue: The Exodus of Ethiopian Jews, 1987, etc.) walks us through what used to be the core of Jewish civilization in Europe. Today, fewer than 120,000 Jews live in Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia, a region once home to nearly 5,000,000 Jews. Between the fall of 1989 and the summer of 1993, Gruber visited the area in an attempt both to recreate the shattered past and to present a contemporary picture of the survivors' world. Her personal reflections often distract us from the subject, but her archival finds and the testimonies she has elicited from survivors and gentile neighbors offer a fascinating glimpse into largely unexplored areas of Jewish history. Gruber's cameralike eye is especially effective in surveying medieval bastions of Jewry like Prague, where she shows ornate synagogues -- complete with domes, choir lofts, organs, and other objects that reflected the affluence and worldliness of Czech Jews. Unlike the poorer Jews of rural Poland and Hungary, many of these Prague Jews are shown to have abandoned basic Jewish customs and cultural knowledge. By the 20th century, their eagerness to assimilate with their non-Jewish neighbors had driven the intermarriage rate to unprecedented levels. Perhaps even more surprising is the evidence of a slow resurgence of Jewish identity in select Polish cities like Warsaw, Wroclaw, and Lodz. Since the collapse of communism in 1989, active Jewish study groups have formed, even though ""being a Jew or coming from a Jewish background can still be very uncomfortable for a Pole."" A rich assemblage of Jewish history, but with the disconcerting organization of a patchwork quilt.