This is a wonderful book. It works on at least four levels: it is a gripping autobiographical account of growing up in a northern town in the early 1900s; it is an intensely moving love story; it hammers home the stupidity of the way we have allowed meaningless religious differences between us to affect the way we treat each other; and it makes us realise that, in this regard at least, we have learned nothing in the last 100 years. I could not put it down ... it is the best read I've had in years.
This is an autobiographical account of Harry Bernstein's early years growing up in a Lancashire mill town. We first meet him at the age of four years when he is allowed to go out to play on the street with his brothers for the first time. On Harry's side of the street lived the Jews and across the road lived the Christians. There was a certain wariness between the two sides which was more pronounced out in the wider world where Harry and his family faced racism, persecution and bullying on a daily basis. It was an incredibly tough world where Harry's Mum struggled to make ends meet on a daily basis. Despite the poverty, religious divide and bullying from his Father and local boys, this is not a depressing story. Rather it is a story of hope and how a little spark of a dream can continue even through the darkest of times. We learn that life is tough on both sides of the road but there are times when they are all just the same - such as the days during the war when the telegram girl cycles up the road. This was a very easy book to read and a very hard one to put down. As a narrator Harry is great. He is very accepting of his world and loving to his family, particularly his Mum and his sister Lily. Harry has set out to tell you how it was, not to elicit pity. There are a great many lessons to be learnt from this tiny piece of history not least that regardless of religion we are all the same underneath. I very much enjoyed this book. Throughout even the darkest hours there was optimism and laughter. I have already bought the second book to see how things pan out for Harry and his family when the dream finally does come true.
Harry Bernstein was born in 1910 and this book tells his story of growing up in an industrial town in the North of England. The youngest child, Harry has two sisters, academic Lily and waspish Rose, two brothers, Saul and Harry as well as a loving mother - and a sullen drunk for a father.
The prominent issue in this book is the fact that the street in which Harry and his family reside is divided along religeous lines - Jews on one side, Christians on the other - with next to no interaction between the two sides, despite the similarities of their lives and even their work. Although the grinding poverty in which the family struggle to survive is detailed thoroughly, the individuals in the family are prominent to the story, none more that Lily - whose chance to go to Grammar school on a scholarship hinges on her mother persauding her oaf of a husband to sign a consent form. Sister Rose is discontented with life and sees the hand to mouth existence of her family for what it is - no amount of bravado from her mother will cause Rose to think fondly of her life. Harry follows in the wake of his brothers as they encounter playground battles with the Christian children and day to day insults from adults who should have known better.
There is humour in the book all the same. Harry is a completely innocent go-between for an invalid girl and her would-be beau (the notes you can pass in a bottle of ginger beer!) but love across the religeous divide is more than either side can accept, and, although the first World War causes the women on both sides to mourn their losses together, the barriers cannot be completely torn down.
I am no fan of "misery memoirs" as a style of book but this tale is so gripping, tragic and yet courageous that it is almost impossible to put down. I have even written to the author via the publisher to say thanks for a great read - and please hurry along with the next one!
The Invisible Wall will break your heart, make you smile - and stay with you long after you read the final sentence.
I have just finished reading this book "The Invisible Wall" and found it fascinating.The story strengthens as it progresses. I recognise some of the characters from personal experiences. The book depicts very well the atmoshphere of religious divide and suspicion on either side of the invisible wall between Christians and Jews, brought about in part by the poverty endemic during and after the first world war. The atmosphere in the street in which they live really brings the characters to life. I have just started the second book, "The Dream" by the same author and hope it gives me as much pleasure as did the first.
This is so fresh. It feels as though it was written days after the events took place, by the four year old boy in the book, full of energy and enthusiasm and wonderment at all of the developments going on around him, not 90 years later, by an old man for whom time must surely have muted the excitement and drama of youth.
Harry Bernstein's great achievement here, is that whilst it is a wonderful autobiography of turn of the century industrial England, what really stands out are his family, friends and neighbours and their interaction and bonds with one another. It is a book that you read to find out what happened next to brothers, sisters and neighbours- with the first world war, revolution, religious intolerance and poverty all taking a back seat, becoming mere events that direct the paths of the lives of the characters, but never overshadowing the strings of friendship and loyalty that hold the street where Harry lives together A lovely book.
I was fascinated firstly by the age of Harry Bernstein when he wrote this memoir. This intrigued me. Having read it now I can say that I wasn't disappointed. Harry grew up in an impoverished family and at time of great sadness and acute anxiety, yet his spirit shines through it all, and his story is told simply and without any bitterness or mawkishness.A must read! I have already passed it on to my sister to read.