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The Invisible Wall: A Love Story That Broke Barriers Paperback – February 12, 2008


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 321 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; Reprint edition (February 12, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345496108
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345496102
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.3 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (193 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #168,124 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Bernstein writes, "There are few rules or unwritten laws that are not broken when circumstances demand, and few distances that are too great to be traveled," about the figurative divide ("geographically... only a few yards, socially... miles and miles") keeping Jews and Christians apart in the poor Lancashire mill town in England where he was raised. In his affecting debut memoir, the nonagenarian gives voice to a childhood version of himself who witnesses his older sister's love for a Christian boy break down the invisible wall that kept Jewish families from Christians across the street. With little self-conscious authorial intervention, young Harry serves as a wide-eyed guide to a world since dismantled—where "snot rags" are handkerchiefs, children enter the workforce at 12 and religion bifurcates everything, including industry. True to a child's experience, it is the details of domestic life that illuminate the tale—the tenderness of a mother's sacrifice, the nearly Dickensian angst of a drunken father, the violence of schoolyard anti-Semitism, the "strange odors" of "forbidden foods" in neighbor's homes. Yet when major world events touch the poverty-stricken block (the Russian revolution claims the rabbi's son, neighbors leave for WWI), the individual coming-of-age is intensified without being trivialized, and the conversational account takes on the heft of a historical novel with stirring success. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School—When Bernstein, who is in his 90s, was a boy, his older sister, Lily, was in love with Arthur. This would not have been a problem except that Arthur was Christian and Lily was Jewish, and in their pre-Great War mill town in northern England, an invisible wall ran down their street, separating them. Neighbors rarely crossed those few cobblestoned feet. In winter, the Jews built a snow slide on their side and the Christians built one on theirs. There was not much other frivolity in those hard times. Home was not a happy place for Harry, his mother, and his five brothers and sisters when his mean, alcoholic father was there. When 12-year-old Lily won a scholarship to grammar school, her father dragged her by the hair to work with him. Harry's mother started a shop in her front room to make ends meet, selling slightly damaged fruit and providing a place for socializing and gossip. She always hoped for better, having Harry write letters to their relatives in America, beseeching them on a regular basis to send passage for her family, and then, finally, only for Lily when the lovers were discovered. Barriers were finally broken as Lily refused to give up either Arthur or her mother. Readers will be taken with this memoir, reminiscent of Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes (Scribner, 1996). It will grab them from the start, drawing them into an intimate relationship with Harry, Lily, their mother, and the various neighbors who lived on their street.—Ellen Bell, Amador Valley High School, Pleasanton, CA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

More About the Author

Ninety-six-year-old Harry Bernstein emigrated to the United States with his family after World War I. He has written all his life but started writing The Invisible Wall only after the death of his wife, Ruby. He has been published in 'My Turn' in Newsweek. Bernstein lives in Brick, New Jersey, where he is working on another book.

Customer Reviews

I'm looking forward to reading the second book.
Ruth Ward
I am so happy the author, Harry Bernstein, persisted and finally had this book published at 96 years of age.
Mary Langer Thompson
I was totally captivated by Mr. Bernstein's writing style and the characters in the book.
Nancy J. Steedle

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

132 of 140 people found the following review helpful By Della Cee VINE VOICE on March 31, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I was touched by The Invisible Wall in a profound way. Harry Bernstein waited to tell the story of his childhood until he was 96 years old. I am not sure if that fact is what had me riveted or the way the story of his upbringing in northern England unfolds. As a young boy, Berstein had to endure a childhood of antisemitism where he was considered a Christ killer because he was Jewish and an alcoholic father. Even his family had their own prejudices and Harry seemed to be caught in the middle. Add a controversial (for their time) love story in the midst of all this and you have a best seller. Bernstein's mother is credited for keeping the family together with her strength and determination. I read this out of curiosity but finished it because it was wonderful and too hard to put down.
The remarkable spirit that pours from the pages of The Invisible Wall will capture your heart.
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42 of 45 people found the following review helpful By J. Green VINE VOICE on April 23, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
When I first heard about this book in the news I was already hooked. Harry Bernstein, in his 90's and lonely after the death of his wife of 60+ years, writes his memories of growing up in a Lancashire mill town in England in the early 1900's. He describes the "invisible wall" that ran down the middle of his street, keeping the Jews on his side and the Christians on the other mostly separate. The only thing they really had in common was poverty and a distrust of each other. It's an amazing memoir as he remembers some of the incidents that happened on his street, such as going to school for the first time, his sister Lily winning a scholarship to the grammar school, and the young men who went to fight in WWI. He tells of the sacrifices his mother made for the children, and how mean and uncaring his father was. The one thing that sort of brought the two sides together was when his sister fell in love with a Christian boy, although it caused a lot of trouble and heartache.

Overall, a very difficult book to put down from the very first sentence. The writing is beautiful and descriptive, and gives a sense of the hardships the working poor faced. But it's not all sadness, and there are some bright moments, although it reads very much like a Dickens novel in many respects. The bigotry of both sides of the street is detailed and told without bitterness. And Bernstein makes his family and neighbors come alive - you feel real sympathy for his mother and sister and their hopes and dreams, and even some for his alcoholic father. It's difficult to describe the emotions in the book, and yet I couldn't wait to keep reading it. Perhaps the best book I've read in a long time and I fully recommend it.
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Ralph Block on May 20, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Written by Harry Bernstein at the age of 93, "The Invisible Wall" is a memoir about a young boy's experiences and observations growing up in a mill town near Manchester, England before and after World War I. Although the story is set in a very small locale, the inter-personal relationships the author (perceptively and lovingly) describes are applicable to all Humankind.

The book is a wondrous mix of both sadness and hope, sorrow and love. In ways similar to "Angela's Ashes," the affirmation of life, despite tradjedy and hardship, runs free throughout its pages.

Mr. Bernstein's story is a microcosm of Human Nature: Our never-ending need for love and companionship, and to endure even when things are most bleak; our mistrust of others whose backgrounds and beliefs are different from our own; how early experiences influence our character and personality throughout our entire lives; our ability, in some instances, to grow beyond narrow confines; the tragedies brought about by conflicts and wars; and the reality that some people are born with kind and generous hearts, while others are not.

Whether one is a Christian, Jew, Muslim or whatever, "The Invisible Wall" is a book of great sensitivity and relevance, one that will not be quickly forgotten. Mr. Bernstein, now working on a second book, is an inspiration to us all.

Ralph Block

Westlake Village, CA
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By S. K. Mittleman on May 6, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Harry Bernstein, who is in his ninties, has written a memoir of what it wa like to grow up in a small mill town in Lancashire, England in the 1920's. His family had emigrated from Poland to escape pogroms. Life in England for poor Jews was hard, economically and socially. Harry's story begins when he is a little boy and covers about 10 years. He describes in small details what is was like to grow up there, at that time.

The book is well written, and reads like a novel....I recommend it!
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By K. Auld on November 17, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Bernstein writes about his childhood in the years before and during the First World War. On one level it's a love story about a forbidden relationship between his Jewish sister and the Christian boy she later marries. But it also covers poverty, Jewish/Christian relations, and the young men who went to fight in the war and the loved ones left behind. A really good read. Hard to believe he wrote this in his late nineties!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Peach Blossom Lane on January 30, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Harry Bernstein could be the poster child for all those aspiring authors who thought they might one day write a book. The man was 96 years old when he finally got the job done, but what a masterful job it is. Bernstein grew up in poverty near Manchester England. Born in 1910, he lived with his parents and siblings on one side of a road in a mill neighborhood. Jews lived on his side of the road and Christians lived on the other side. There were, of course, tensions and problems and some violence, but overall, people survived with a wary eye on each other and sometimes with genuine good deeds toward their neighbors. True, schoolboys on each side beat each other up and insults were frequently hurled, but not all residents on either side wanted it that way and there were the decent people on each side of the street who only wanted to live in peace. To say that Bernstein's family was poor is entirely too tame a description for their woes. The mother loved her children and provided for them as best she could. The father however, was an alcoholic brute who abused all who crossed his path whether they be children, wife, neighbors or co-workers. The wonder is that someone did not kill the man and end the family's woes. The fact that Harry even lived to adulthood is in itself a miracle. The obvious comparison here would be to Angela's Ashes, but this, in spite of all, is a more upbeat and optimistic story. Bernstein pulls the reader along with his realistic dialogue and descriptions and even when he relates an awful happening the reader's feeling is that things have to get better at some point. Miraculously, they do when an unknown benefactor sends steamship tickets to America. This is a book to read and treasure, but not one to start into at bedtime as it is impossible to put down once begun.
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