This photo shows the author Harry Bernstein as a child. He is seated on his mother’s lap, surrounded by his siblings. Bernstein’s memoir, The Invisible Wall, begins when he was four years old, about the time this photo was taken.
Harry was raised in the English mill town of Stockport. His father worked in a tailor shop, while his mother struggled to feed, clothe, and educate their children. Much of his father’s meager salary went for his drinking and gambling, and the family was poorer than most. The family were observant Jews, whose life revolved around the Sabbath and Holy Days.
The street the family lived on was populated with similar families. The Jews lived on one side of the street, and the Christians lived on the other. Down the middle of the street runs the “invisible wall” of the title. Except for attending the same schools and frequenting each others’ shops, the Christians and Jews had little to do with one another. When one Jewish girl fell in love with an unsuitable Christian boy, her family shipped her off to a relative in Australia. While there was some animosity between the two sides of the street, the families mostly co-existed in an uneasy peace.
Life changes, however, during the Great War. The families rely on each other for news of the war and of their sons. All mourn when a son is killed or wounded.
When the soldiers return from the War, the budding relationship between Harry’s sister Lily and the Christian neighbor Arthur Forshaw blossoms. Harry becomes Lily’s co-conspirator in her trysts with Arthur.
There are many poignant scenes in The Invisible Wall. This memoir reminded me of Angela’s Ashes. The ignorance and poverty of both families was strikingly similar, but The Invisible Wall was much more focused on the relationships between the Christians and Jews than the fact of the poverty.
This book tells a very sad, but true story. As in Angela’s Ashes, the redemption comes from the author’s successful life in America, a stark contrast to its meager beginning.
Published in hardcover-Ballantine Books-2007
Softcover edition-Ballantine Books-2008