There seem to be two types of memoirs. In the first, the writer tells us things about his and his parent’s lives, about his children and his pets, about his view of the world, and so on and so on. These stories can be so overblown that we’re reluctantly dragged along, winding up being the worse for wear when we reach the end.
Then, there are memoirs like The Dream by nonagenarian Harry Bernstein. While this is the story of his life and his family, it feels more like listening to someone from our own family. His relatives’ stories all seem so true and so familiar that no time at all goes by before we’re at page 279.
Bernstein’s tale is that of a young Jewish male whose family leaves England via steamer from Liverpool in 1922, bound for America – a journey that was the dream of Bernstein’s mother. The virtually penniless family received the tickets for their trip from an unknown benefactor and arrived in Quebec before making their way by train to Chicago, which was then a growing, dirty, busy city where the smell of the well-known stockyards was constant – not quite the heaven on earth that Ma Bernstein expected to find.
No, the past was not perfect, but the Bernstein family is beginning to acquire some money when the Great Depression hits in 1929. Harry searches for a job for a year before finding one as a “clerk” for a company engaging in dubious activities.
The young Bernstein thinks he wants to be an architect, but after multiple years of study, he finds he has no skills. He also fails at jobs he really doesn’t want – one of the many experiences common to the young. Eventually, he moves to New York City where he meets the love of his life, Ruby, to whom he is married for sixty-seven years. There, he falls into the career of a fledgling writer.
What happens to his beloved mother, his father, his paternal grandparents, and his siblings is what the remainder of this book is about. It never fails to keep the reader’s interest. The world lost an architect but found an extremely talented writer in Mr. Bernstein. His newly released memoir, The Golden Willow, is all about his life with Ruby Bernstein, and I can hardly wait to read it.
(Note: The Invisible Wall by Harry Bernstein was a Target Bookmarked Club Summer ’08 Pick.)
Ballantine Books, $14.00, 279 pages
This review was written by Joseph Arellano. Reprinted courtesy of Sacramento Book Review.