Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Invisible Wall by Harry Bernstein

The Invisible Wall is an elaborately detailed memoir of a ninety-something-year-old man's recollections of a WWI era childhood in a small English town just outside of Manchester. It focuses in on one particular street where the poorer sect lived. On one side lived the Christians and on the other, the Jews. Their situations were almost identical yet a void existed between the two sides that was nearly impossible to cross. Both sides feared each other; neither liked things that were different from themselves. But, one love affair (at least temporarily) changed everything. Bernstein's vivid descriptions brings a street you come to know almost as well as your own comes together as one.

Bernstein's narrative begins long before the void-filling love affair actually takes place and relives all the significant events from his childhood memories from how his mother earned money to care for her family to the way his alcoholic father stormed out of the house each night. Bernstein introduces you to all his neighbors - on both sides of the street - and retells events significant in their lives too.

The memoir is so engaging and the story is so accessible that before you know it, you're living young Harry's life right beside him - saddened when he's denied admission to a better school because of his shoes (and his religion,) tearful when he witnesses the death of a war veteran, and heartened when he first becomes an uncle.

Additionally appealing is that this story is real. It's not some fictionalized tale about overcoming prejudices and uniting under the commonality of humanity. This is the childhood of one boy who saw both hate and love emanate from one tiny street, a microcosm of an entire "era" in our history.

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