Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Invisible Wall (Valentine's Day #3)

The Invisible Wall: A Love Story That Broke BarriersWhen I first heard about The Invisible Wall: A Love Story That Broke Barriers in the news a few years ago, 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 World War I. He tells of the sacrifices his mother made for her 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.

Mr. Bernstein's memoir is difficult to put down from the 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 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. I'm not a fan of memoirs, but it was an outstanding book which I highly recommend.

So, those are my recommendations for Valentine's Day-themed reading. I hope you find something that appeals to you.

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