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The Invisible Wall: A Love Story That Broke Barriers

by Harry Bernstein

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9793921,510 (4.09)49
This enchanting true story, written when the author was ninety-three, is a moving tale of working-class life, social divide, and forbidden love on the eve of the first World War. The narrow street on which Harry grew up appeared identical to countless other working-class English neighborhoods--except for the invisible wall that ran down the center of the street, dividing the Jewish families on one side from the Christians on the other. The geographical distance may have been yards, but socially, it was miles. Families on either side did not speak or meet. But when Harry's older sister fell for the boy across the street, Harry became a go-between for the lovers, crossing the great divide to hide their secret. When the truth inevitably came out, Harry had to decide, at a very young age, what he believed was morally right.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 35 (next | show all)
At the age of 96, Harry Bernstein published this, the first volume of his memoirs, which he had started writing a few years earlier after the death of his wife. An impressive feat in and of itself. But equally impressive is the work itself, the story of Harry's childhood, told in a straightforward, gentle tone with incredible detail. My only quibble is with the subtitle: "A love story that broke barriers." In my mind, this sounds like a marketing gimmick and lessons the true value of the memoir, but that decision was most likely not the author's.

Harry Bernstein grew up on a narrow street in the English mill town of Lancashire during the first world war. It is an area of extreme poverty and segregation: one side of the street is inhabited by Christians and the other side by Jews. An invisible wall runs down the middle that is only semi-permeable. Harry's father is a brutal alcohol, and his mother struggles to keep Harry and his siblings fed and clothed. Her self-sacrificing nature is put to the test when an interfaith relationship strains the little community.

Although poverty, religious differences, and the impact of war are at the heart of the book, it is not all gloom and doom. There is love, friendship, and hope. Harry is both an observer and a participant in the dramas of the day, and his perspective has both the innocence of childhood and a calm reflective quality. I very much enjoyed reading this first volume, and may look for the second, The Dream, about his adolescence in America. ( )
  labfs39 | Oct 23, 2022 |
This is the story of Harry Bernstein's life as a very young child growing up in early 20th century England on a street people by Christians on one side and Jews on the other. Despite their proximity and interdependence, there is an "invisible wall" that separates them. The Bernstein family was very poor (reminded me of "Angela's Ashes") with a loutish father who spent much of his income on booze and gambling. Then Harry's sister falls in love with a Christian boy across the street and things begin to change.

It was so interesting to read about something I knew absolutely nothing about and was amazed by how vivid Mr. Bernstein's memories were. ( )
  mamashepp | Mar 29, 2016 |
This is the story of Harry Bernstein's life as a very young child growing up in early 20th century England on a street people by Christians on one side and Jews on the other. Despite their proximity and interdependence, there is an "invisible wall" that separates them. The Bernstein family was very poor (reminded me of "Angela's Ashes") with a loutish father who spent much of his income on booze and gambling. Then Harry's sister falls in love with a Christian boy across the street and things begin to change.

It was so interesting to read about something I knew absolutely nothing about and was amazed by how vivid Mr. Bernstein's memories were. ( )
  mamashepp | Mar 29, 2016 |
This is a memoir written by a 96 year old man, looking back on his childhood in Europe centered around World War 1. Harry, a small child for most of the novel, tells of the anti-semitism on his street, and the occasional joyful joining of the two religions on it (Judaism and Christianity). The memoir also focuses on his sister falling in love with a Christian.

This book didn't grip me in the way that a great memoir could, but I'll be damned if it wasn't written superbly or made me tear up at the ending. It didn't bring much of anything new to the table, instead preferring to highlight the age-old theme of "We are all the same; do not let our divisions, religious or otherwise, separate us."

But for me, it was touching. I won't be racing to the bookstore to buy the sequel for this book, but I'm glad that I read it. ( )
  Proustitutes | Jun 11, 2015 |
Hard-to-forget story of a very poor neighborhood in early 1900s England where self imposed segregation between the Jews on one side of the street and the Christians on the other. Deals with a family with a deeply caring mother, a brute of a husband with very few redeeming qualities, and their 5 Children. A wonderful effort by the 93 year old author, Bernstein, who was the youngest of the clan he writes about. He brings to life all the ignorant bias and inhumanity brought about by ridiculous traditions and poverty and follows several generations though the despair and pain of two wars. This is my first 5 star review ( )
  brucemmoyer | Apr 29, 2015 |
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Dedicated to Ma, who gave us so much, and received so little. Can this book make up for it? Can anything?
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Outwardly, I suppose, our street looked pretty much the same as any other in the working-class section of a Lancashire mill town did in those days.
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This enchanting true story, written when the author was ninety-three, is a moving tale of working-class life, social divide, and forbidden love on the eve of the first World War. The narrow street on which Harry grew up appeared identical to countless other working-class English neighborhoods--except for the invisible wall that ran down the center of the street, dividing the Jewish families on one side from the Christians on the other. The geographical distance may have been yards, but socially, it was miles. Families on either side did not speak or meet. But when Harry's older sister fell for the boy across the street, Harry became a go-between for the lovers, crossing the great divide to hide their secret. When the truth inevitably came out, Harry had to decide, at a very young age, what he believed was morally right.

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