The Lakeshore Readers’ Book Group Reviews: The Invisible Wall, by Harry Bernstein. The Lakeshore Readers’ Book Group meets at Glen Lake Community Library in Empire. The group is hosted by The Cottage Book Shop in Glen Arbor.
In his affecting debut memoir, Harry Bernstein, 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 in a poor Lancashire mill town in England where he was raised. 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.
Empire is along the shores of Lake Michigan where M-22 intersects with M-72, about 45 minutes from Traverse City.