Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Review: The Invisible Wall

Book: The Invisible Wall

Author: Harry Bernstein

Genre: Memoir
My short review: Very well written, simple and appealing story, vivid descriptions and a peep into lives of people in England during WW-I.

My rating: 4 Stars.

When I heard that Harry Bernstein was 92 when he started writing his first book, I knew that I was definitely going to read the book! It is really inspiring to see his determination to start writing at the age of 92. What made my decision easier was the fact that the person who recommended the book to me loved it and every review I found raved about it as well. So, that’s how The Invisible Wall landed on my nightstand.

Harry Bernstein’s writing appealed to me from the very first page. The Invisible Wall is a memoir. In this book, Harry describes his life before he immigrated to the United States. Harry was born into a poor Jewish family and lived in the Lancashire Mill Town. He had 4 older siblings (2 girls and 2 boys) and 1 younger sibling who came along much later in life. Harry’s family struggled to make ends meet. His father, who was a tailor by profession, preferred spending his evenings getting drunk rather than interacting with his family. He never talked to his children and didn’t bother too much about household affairs. Harry’s mom struggled to feed and clothe the children with the miniscule amount of money that her husband gave grudgingly for household affairs.

What is interesting about Harry’s childhood home is the street that his house was in. The street had houses on both sides. One side was occupied by Jewish families and the other by Christian Families. In spite of the proximity, the occupants of either side maintained such a distance between themselves that it felt like there was an invisible wall between the rows of houses. The interaction between the Jews and the Christians was minimal – restricted to occasional smiles and Friday evenings when the Christian women entered the Jewish houses to light a fire since the Jewish women had to observe Sabbath and could not do it. The descriptions of the street and the lives of the people have a very “D.H. Lawrence-touch” to them. Harry’s descriptions are vivid and you are transported to the England during WW-I.

What adds flavor the book is the love story that is featured in the book – not his own that but that of his older sister, Lily. Lily falls in love with a Christian boy from across the street. This is relatively unheard of in the street and the last time something like that happened, the girl was shipped off to Australia to live with her Jewish relatives and marry a Jewish man like she is supposed to do.

Since I am from India, I could totally understand the reaction of Harry’s family and their neighbors to the romance between Lily and Arthur. India is potpourri of castes and religions and romances across castes and religions is frowned upon and definitely not encouraged. Stories of inter-caste relationships make for good gossip among the ladies similar to what happens in this book as well.

The events on this street happen against the background of World War I. Boys and men are recruited from both sides of the street. Some come back affected in mind only, some come back injured both mentally and physically, and some don’t ever come back.

The Invisible Wall turned out to be a fabulous, entertaining read and I loved every page of the book. Even though it is a memoir, it reads like fiction since the time period that Harry writes about is not exactly contemporary. I guess that’s a big advantage of him writing this book when he is 92! Harry’s writing style is simple but powerful. His descriptions of the people and the places create wonderful images in your brain as you are reading the book. Some parts of the book tug at your heart and make you want to cry. Others are hilarious and make you want to laugh out loud. It is a quick read as it is not a long book either.

I would totally totally recommend this book to everyone reading this review. And I can’t wait to get my hands on Harry’s second book.


A few edits:

1. I just realized that this book would qualify for my Jewish Literature Challenge as well..So, that's 3 books done!:)

2. I forgot to inform you that Harry Bernstein's second book - Dreams is also out and I have that on my night stand..can't wait to pick that up immediately!

3.I also just found out that Harry Bernstein's third book is due to be out this april! he's 99 years old this year! Can you beleive it??? I am more and more amazed at his capability to do this!


Have you read this book? What did you think about it?


Serena said...

I've added this to the TBR list! thanks for another great review!

Lezlie said...

I love hearing about people who start new projects in their old age. It's so inspiring! And this looks good!


Ramya said...

@serena - you're welcome!:)

@lezlie - isn't it totally inspiring? I hope I have at least half the drive that he has when I am half his age!

Jo-Jo said...

This sounds like a fantastic book Ramya...thanks for the review! I have that memoirs that are written like fiction are definitely more likely to hold my attention. So thanks for pointing that out to me!

Madeleine said...

I absolutely have to read this book for its story and for an author who found inspiration at age 92! How inspiring...never give up a very nice!

bermudaonion said...

Writing a book at 92 is unbelievable! That alone makes me want to buy the book.

Dar said...

Well I'll be adding this to my wishlist Ramya. Amazing review! The story sounds fascinating. 99 yrs old and still writing-that is just so amazing to be able to still do that at that age.

Priya Iyer said...

wow! this definitely sounds like something i would like to read... the premise is interesting and from what you say, it seems to be very well narrated as well... even if that was not the case, i would have loved to read this book just for the fact that the author wrote it at the age of 92! :)

jenclair said...

I've added this to my list! I love memoirs and biographies and this one sounds especially interesting since I like this historic period. Thanks for a great review.

Ramya said...

@jo-jo - I have realized that as well! I love memoirs that read like fiction!

@madeleine - i would have picked this book up even if i hadn't liked the premise of the book! writing when you are in your 90s is definitely not a joke!:)

@bermudaonion - that was my main motivation to read this book as well!

@dar - I totally admire Harry Bernstein.. can't wait to read the other books in this series!

@priya - i know! inspiring!:)

@jenclair - I am sure you'll love this one!

HappyComfort said...

I found this book at my local library and was so glad I did! It was very good. I recommend it definitely!

Anonymous said...

I just finished reading this book for the second time. It is a rich book about the heritage of Harry's family and also about the Christians acorss the street. I loved the second and third books as well and look forward to the fourth and last book that will be coming out. May