From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Having mined his English upbringing in The Invisible Wall
, Bernstein resumes a nine-decade reckoning in this gently observed memoir of a Jewish immigrant family riven from within. Eager to escape English mill town life, his mother promises her brood a better life in America-a dream providentially fulfilled with steamship tickets. But even after reuniting with family in Chicago, his father's "bloody 'ell" bellows and monstrous rage continue to smite. The author takes in his new surroundings with a keen adolescent eye, observing "back porches all piled on top of one another like egg crates," belying celluloid America-as do his ragamuffin elders, with his grandfather reduced to begging in secret. At school he confounds Midwestern types with his Lancashire accent, comically mistaken for an Egyptian named "Arry." Engulfed in the Roaring '20s, the Bernsteins revel in the luxuries of telephones and parlor rooms, only to feel the wallop of the Depression as the decade wanes. Uprooted to New York, Bernstein ekes out a living and falls quietly, desperately in love, achieving a joyful 67-year marriage. Coming on the heels of his first book, this one will delight readers eager for more of Bernstein's distinctive voice and gift for character. (Apr.)
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In 2007, when he was 96, Bernstein wrote his first memoir, The Invisible Wall. Now he continues the story of his life. He writes about his early days in England, where his mother strived to raise her six children, and their coming to America, where they met relatives in Chicago during the Depression. Bernstein also describes the poor section of a Lancashire mill town where he lived, “an invisible wall, the imaginary barrier that separated the Christians and the Jews,” and the warm welcome the family received in Chicago, where they were unprepared for the freezing weather. He worked as a clerk in the main Chicago post office after graduating from high school and then moved to Brooklyn, “a huge ghetto composed largely of Jewish immigrants who had fled the anti-Semitism of Poland and Russia.” This coherent account of Bernstein’s life is a fascinating and well-written book. --George Cohen