Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Memoir Review: The Dream

Harry Bernstein began writing his first memoir, The Invisible Wall, when he was 93 years old! In that book, Harry wrote about the first 12 years of his life, spent in a small English mill town on a cobblestone street that had Christian families on one side and Jewish families on the other, at the beginning of the 20th century. His second memoir, The Dream, picks up the story there and is just as engaging and well written as the first book.

As The Dream opens, Harry’s mother’s long held wish has finally come true – their family in Chicago has sent tickets for Harry’s family to travel across the ocean and join them in America.  Harry, his mother, and his brothers and sister all imagine that life in America will be like they’ve seen in the movies, with huge gardens and swimming pools and wealth available to all. Of course, the reality is quite a bit different. Though they do experience modern miracles like electric lights and telephones for the first time, they also see that poverty is just as present in America as it is in England.

The family manages somehow through ups and downs – family weddings, unemployment, family secrets, and the Great Depression, which brings the same sort of economic troubles they suffered through in England. All the while, Harry’s father continues to struggle with his alcohol addiction and his temper, and Harry’s siblings get jobs, lose jobs, and fall in love. However, Harry’s mother still believes that Harry will be the one in the family who will finally achieve The Dream: to go to college and make something of himself.

As with The Invisible Wall, Bernstein is a talented writer with a remarkable memory who makes these distant times and places come alive. The book reads like a novel, and his story is a compelling one, with his family’s history mirroring that of our entire nation. Toward the end of the memoir, Harry meets his future wife, Ruby, the love of his life, and the book also becomes a beautiful love story. I thoroughly enjoyed both The Invisible Wall and The Dream and can’t wait to read his third and final memoir, The Golden Willow.

260 pages, Ballantine Books

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