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4.3 32
by Harry Bernstein

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“Dreams played an important part in our lives in those early days in England. Our mother invented them for us to make up for all the things we lacked and to give us some hope for the future.”

During the hard and bitter years of his youth in England, Harry Bernstein’s selfless mother struggles to keep her six children fed and clothed. But she


“Dreams played an important part in our lives in those early days in England. Our mother invented them for us to make up for all the things we lacked and to give us some hope for the future.”

During the hard and bitter years of his youth in England, Harry Bernstein’s selfless mother struggles to keep her six children fed and clothed. But she never stops dreaming of a better life in America, no matter how unlikely. Then, one miraculous day when Harry is twelve years old, steamships tickets arrive in the mail, sent by an anonymous benefactor.

Suddenly, a new life full of the promise of prosperity seems possible–and the family sets sail for America, meeting relatives in Chicago. Harry is mesmerized by the city: the cars, the skyscrapers, and the gorgeous vistas of Lake Michigan. For a time, the family gets a taste of the good life: electric lights, a bathtub, a telephone. But soon the harsh realities of the Great Depression envelop them. Skeletons in the family closet come to light, mafiosi darken their doorstep, family members are lost, and dreams are shattered.

In the face of so much loss, Harry and his mother must make a fateful decision–one that will change their lives forever. And though he has struggled for so long, there is an incredible bounty waiting for Harry in New York: his future wife, Ruby. It is their romance that will finally bring the peace and happiness that Harry’s mother always dreamed was possible.

With a compelling cast and evocative settings, Harry Bernstein’s extraordinary account of his hardscrabble youth in Depression-era Chicago and New York will grip you from the very first page. Full of humor, drama, and romance, this tale of hope and dreams coming true enthralls and enchants.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

John Leland
…[a] wise, unsentimental memoir…[Bernstein] tells his tale without rhetorical fuss or disappointment
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Having mined his English upbringing in The Invisible Wall, Bernstein resumes a nine-decade reckoning in this gently observed memoir of a Jewish immigrant family riven from within. Eager to escape English mill town life, his mother promises her brood a better life in America-a dream providentially fulfilled with steamship tickets. But even after reuniting with family in Chicago, his father's "bloody 'ell" bellows and monstrous rage continue to smite. The author takes in his new surroundings with a keen adolescent eye, observing "back porches all piled on top of one another like egg crates," belying celluloid America-as do his ragamuffin elders, with his grandfather reduced to begging in secret. At school he confounds Midwestern types with his Lancashire accent, comically mistaken for an Egyptian named "Arry." Engulfed in the Roaring '20s, the Bernsteins revel in the luxuries of telephones and parlor rooms, only to feel the wallop of the Depression as the decade wanes. Uprooted to New York, Bernstein ekes out a living and falls quietly, desperately in love, achieving a joyful 67-year marriage. Coming on the heels of his first book, this one will delight readers eager for more of Bernstein's distinctive voice and gift for character. (Apr.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

Nonagenarian Bernstein's moving sequel to his critically acclaimed memoir The Invisible Wall: A Love Story That Broke Barriers deftly continues the harrowing yet inspiring story of his troubled family's struggle to pursue its dreams amid poverty and heartache during the Great Depression. Having finally achieved their long-held hope of emigrating from England to the United States, the Bernsteins find that 1930s America is not at all the land of opportunity they had imagined. In compellingly simple, direct prose, Bernstein masterfully describes the harsh realities and quiet joys of immigrant life in Chicago's and New York's Jewish neighborhoods. He possesses the unusual ability to find redeeming beauty even in life's most mundane aspects, speaking eloquently with a rare warmth and wisdom to the human heart's universal yearning for love and meaning. Likely to appeal to readers who have liked Anzia Yezierska's Red Ribbon on a White Horse and those interested in the immigrant experience in America; highly recommended.
—Ingrid Levin

Kirkus Reviews
Lugubrious memoir from the nonagenarian author of The Invisible Wall: A Love Story That Broke Barriers (2007). Bernstein was 12 in 1922 when steamship tickets to America from an unknown donor mysteriously arrived, sending the family-hardworking, long-suffering mother, hard-drinking, foul-mouthed father and six children-to join relatives in Chicago. The father, depicted as thoroughly despicable, swiftly alienated the grandmother, and they were all thrown out of the grandparents' home. But the '20s were relatively good times, and the young author got a high-school education. Surprisingly, his grandfather, a family embarrassment because he made his living as a street beggar and was the focus of loud, invective-filled family arguments, revealed that a guilty conscience over past injustices to Bernstein's mother had prompted him to provide the tickets to America. With the Great Depression, family fortunes nosedived, and Bernstein's plans for higher education ended when his father stole his and his mother's savings. The author beat up his father and persuaded his mother to flee with him to New York, where his two older brothers helped them settle in Brooklyn. In time, his odious father rejoined them, and the author ran into his eccentric grandfather, who was plying his trade on the streets of New York. Odd family members move in and out of the narrative, and Bernstein inserts episodes from their struggles into his own. Life took a turn for the better when he married his beloved Ruby and took a job as a script reader for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. But for his much put-upon mother, full of disappointed expectations and longings, the dream of a good life in America never materialized. When shediscovered that she had been supported for years by the takings of a beggar whose earlier gift she had never been able to repay, she died of a stroke. After her funeral, Bernstein never saw his father again. A harsh story so filled with anger and bad feeling that reading is tough going.

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Chapter One

Dreams played an important part in our lives in those early days in England. Our mother invented them for us to make up for all the things we lacked and to give us some hope for the future. Perhaps, also, it was for herself, to escape the miseries she had to endure, which were caused chiefly by my father, who cared little about his family.

The dreams were always there to brighten our lives a little. Only they came and went, beautiful while they lasted, but fragile and quick to vanish. They were like the soap bubbles we used to blow out of a clay pipe, sending them floating in the air above us in a gay, colorful procession, each one tantalizing but elusive. When we reached up to seize one and hold it in our hand, it burst at the slightest touch and disappeared. That is how our dreams were.

Take, for instance, the front parlor. For years and years, as long as we had lived in the house, the front room, intended to be a parlor, had remained empty, completely without furniture of any sort, simply because we could not afford to buy any. The fireplace had never been lit, and stood there cold and gray. But that wasn’t how it appeared in the dream my mother conjured up for us. It would, she promised, be warm and cozy, with red plush furniture, a luxurious divan, and big, comfortable chairs. It would have a red plush carpet on the floor too, and on top of all that there would be a piano. Yes, a piano with black and white keys that we could all play on.

Oh, it was a wonderful dream, and we used to pretend it had already happened and we were lounging on the chairs, with my sister Rose stretched out on the divan. She, more than any of us, gave vent to a vivid imagination, playing the part of a duchess and giving commands to servants in a haughty tone, with an imaginary lorgnette held to her eyes.

Then what happened? My mother must have done a lot of soul searching, and it must have cost her many a sleepless night before she reached her decision to do what Rose afterward, in her bitterness, called treachery. But what else could my poor mother have done? She was struggling desperately to keep us all alive with the little money my father doled out to her every week from his pay as a tailor, keeping the bulk of it for his drinking and gambling. She had to do something to keep us from starving, so she turned the front room into a small shop, where she sold faded fruits and vegetables, which she scavenged from underneath the stalls in the market.

A common shop, no less, to break that beautiful bubble. My sister Rose never forgave her, and indeed the bitterness and resentment lasted a lifetime, and she hardly ever talked to my mother again.

But that’s how our dreams were, and it didn’t seem as if the really big one my mother had would be any different. This was the dream of going to America. This was the one my mother would never give up. It was the panacea for all her ills, the only hope she had left of a better life.

We had relatives there–not hers; she had none of her own, having been orphaned as a child in Poland, then passed from one unwilling and often unkind household to another until she was sixteen and able to make her way to England. They were my father’s relatives, his father and mother, and about ten brothers and sisters, a large brood of which he was the oldest.

At one time they too had lived in England, and in the very same house where we now lived, that whole family crowded into a house that was scarcely big enough for ours with only six children. No wonder they fought so often among themselves; it was for space, probably, they fought, although they fought with their neighbors as well. They were a noisy, unruly lot, I am told, and my father was the worst of them all when it came to battling. In fact, he terrorized his entire family with his loud voice and ready fists; even my grandmother may have been afraid of him, and she was pretty tough herself.

As for my grandfather, he played no part in any of this. He let my grandmother rule the house, which she did with an iron fist except when it came to my father. But my grandfather managed to keep pretty much to himself. He was a roofer by trade and he was away often, mending slate roofs in distant towns and enjoying himself immensely. He would sing while he worked, songs of all nationalities, Jewish, Irish, English, Polish, often drawing a large, appreciative audience below.

In an old cardboard box where my mother used to keep an assortment of family photographs I once found a sepia photo of my father’s entire family, all of them arranged in three rows one behind the other, all dressed in their best clothes, smiling and looking like well-behaved, perfectly respectable children, far from the ruffians that they were. In the center sat the two parents, my grandmother heavy and double-chinned with a massive bosom and the glower on her face that was always there. Beside her sat my grandfather, a bearded and quite distinguished-looking gentleman holding a silver-knobbed cane between his legs, wearing a frock coat.

My father was not in that photograph, and for a very good reason: He was still in Poland.

The story, I have always felt, was somewhat apocryphal, yet older members of the family swear to its truth. At seven years of age my father had been put to work in a slaughterhouse, where he cleared up the remains of the animals that had been slaughtered for butchering. He worked twelve and sometimes more hours a day. At nine he started to drink. At ten he was defying my grandmother and a terror to all of them. He could not be handled. So one day while he was at work my grandmother gathered up the rest of her children and together with my grandfather they all fled to England, leaving my father to fend for himself. When he got home and found them gone, he almost went mad with rage. He followed them, however, and after many difficult weeks of travel finally got to England. He arrived at our street in the middle of the night, having learned from other Jewish people where they lived, and he banged on the door and demanded to be let in.

My grandmother was awakened along with the rest of the household. Peering down from her bedroom window and seeing who it was, she went to get the bucket that stood on the landing and was used as a toilet for the night. It was full to the brim. She carried it to the open window and poured it down on his head. He let out a yell of rage, but refused to give up and kept banging on the door until she was forced to let him in.

So now it was the same thing all over again, except that he was vengeful and more dangerous than ever, and my grandmother racked her brain for another means of getting rid of him. It was at this time, so the story goes, that my mother arrived in England and straight into the hands of my grandmother, who immediately saw the solution to her problem in this sweet, innocent young orphaned girl, who had no friends, no relatives, nobody in the world to turn to. It was not hard to promote the match between her and my father, so my mother, knowing nothing about him, fell into the trap of a marriage that brought her nothing but misery for the rest of her life.

That wasn’t the end of the story. No sooner had this marriage taken place than my grandmother lost no time in putting as much distance as she could between her and her oldest son. Once again she packed her things, gathered her brood together, and took them off to America, and out of the goodness of her heart she arranged with the landlord for the newly married couple to take over her house.

In view of all this it would seem utterly useless for my mother to appeal to my father’s family–my grandmother, especially–for help in coming to America. Twice they had fled from my father. What chance was there that they would spend their money to buy the steamship tickets that she always asked for and that would bring him back into their lives?

Yet, knowing this, knowing the terrible story of how they had abandoned him in Poland and the suspicion that it had been something similar when they went to America, my mother wrote to all of them just the same. By this time the children were grown up, and most of them were married and out of my grandmother’s house, so there were many letters to write.

She could not write herself, since she had never gone to school; she dictated them to one of us. Through all the years this had been going on, the job was handed down from one to the other as we grew up, until finally it came to me, and I was the one who sat down opposite her at the table in the kitchen and dipped my pen in the ink bottle and waited while she thought of what to say.

At last she began: “My dear–––,” naming whomever this was being written to. “Just a few lines to let you know we are all well and hoping to hear the same from you.”

Her letters always began this way, and eventually, after a few words of gossip about the old street–how Mrs. Cohen had had another baby, how this one across the street had been sick, how that one had lost a job–she would finally launch into her plea for the tickets. She never said the word money. She could not bear the thought of taking money from anyone. But tickets, steamship tickets, seemed better, and she would always reassure them that they would be paid for once we got to America and started working there.

They did not always answer. Sometimes weeks would go by and no letter came from America. The postman knew all about us and what we were expecting. Well, the whole street knew, but the postman especially. He was an elderly man with white hair sticking out from under his peaked hat, and he limped from a wounded leg he had got in the Boer War. He’d see me waiting at the front door while he limped his way down the street with his bag slung over one shoulder, and shake his head before he got to me and say, “Not today, lad. Better luck tomorrow.”

We did get a letter from Uncle Abe. And it was an excited, jubilant letter. He wrote telling us how well he was doing, that he had three suits of clothing hanging in his closet. In his excitement his words got twisted a little, and one sentence came out as “I have a beautiful home and a wife with electric lights and a bathtub.”

It was good for a laugh, but what about the tickets we’d asked him for? Nor did any of the others mention them. And as for my grandmother, the one letter she wrote in several years had a caustic touch. “What do you think I am,” she asked, “the Bank of England? Or do you think I took the crown jewels with me when I left England?”

With all this you’d think my mother would get discouraged and give up writing letters. But that did not happen, and I don’t know how many letters I wrote over the years, starting when I was about nine or ten. And then one morning when I was twelve, while we were all seated round the table at breakfast, there was a loud knocking at the front door.
“Go and see who it is,” my mother said, addressing no one in particular. She was too busy serving the breakfast and trying to feed the baby, who was propped up in an improvised high chair made from an ordinary chair plus a wooden box and a strap.

For a while none of us seemed to have heard her. It was probably a Jewish holiday of some sort, for we were all home and my father was still upstairs sleeping. We were busy not only eating but also reading, with our books and magazines propped up in front of us against the sugar bowl, the milk jug, the loaf of bread, or whatever other support we could find. This was a regular practice of ours at mealtimes. But the lack of response to my mother’s request could have been due to something else. Despite the absorption in our reading, it could have been the thought that the knock might be from a customer, and that would have been a good reason to ignore it. We hated customers along with the shop, still not realizing that it represented our very lifeblood.

And then my eyes lifted from the copy of Treasure Island that I was reading, and my mother’s gaze caught mine and she said, “You go, Harry.”

I got up reluctantly and went to the front door.

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

Ninety-eight-year-old Harry Bernstein emigrated to the United States with his family after World War I. He began writing his acclaimed first book, The Invisible Wall, after the death of his wife, Ruby. He has also been published in “My Turn” in Newsweek. Bernstein lives in Brick, New Jersey, where he is working on another book.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Dream 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 30 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I know Harry has passed on by now,  but I selfishly want him to keep producing books. But, I know in reality..... But the grapevine says he started another. Wow, this man is something else. I don't remember what happen in my life nine years ago let alone 90 years ago. I will never forget these stories of how it was for this family in those days. Very interesting to see it through a mind of a child all the way through to his adulthood. The story was so easy to read, well told and written beautifully, by this beautiful man and his heart wrenching account of what took place. Oh "Arry", my only regret is that you didn't start to write this sooner. Thank you for bringing readers this unforgettable story. It will stay in my mind and heart forever! Young Harry and his brothers and sisters, devoted mother and rather despicable, drunken and despotic father, leave their Liverpool poverty and travel to America in the early twentieth century. As Harry grows, the first of his family to complete high school (his mother cannot read or write), he takes on the role of the man in the house, eventually managing to work even during the Depression (though nearly killed by a band of thugs), trying to get his mother away from his father who has always made their life miserable. The strength, charm and humor of young Harry is wonderful and when he at last falls in love with a girl he meets in a dance hall, he begins a romance and marriage which will last him almost three quarters of a century. Beautifully written memoir, sad, uplifting, quite an extraordinary book from its 90+ year old writer. This book I'll keep.  
grumpydan More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed reading Mr. Bernstein's first book The Invisible Wall and looked forward to reading this book. I was not disappointed. What this 98 year old author remembers about his youth in Chicago and New York is amazing. He describes in detail his life as a child, his family members, his first job, and meeting the love of his life. All this through the roaring twenties and the Great Depression. I had a sense of being there with him. This memoir is one of the best I have ever read.
Derson More than 1 year ago
After reading "The Invisible Wall" by same author, I had to read the follow up and did not regret either book. It is heart wrenching and really gives a personal insight of the culture at that time of history. I applaud the author for sharing so much of himself and his family - thank you.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Having read Harry Bernstein's "The Invisible Wall", I was even more elated with "The Dream". Thank you Mr. Bernstein.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
His is an incredible story. Loved his first book The Invisible Wall and had to read the second book. Book clubs would love these books.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book in two days....Was hard to put down....A must read and was sad when i finished...It is a book you never want to end. What a beautiful mother and a lost father.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am a big fan of Memoirs so after reading Frank McCourt's Angelas Ashes and Tis I just had to read Harry Bernstein. I loved The Invisible Wall and finished it in about a week and went straight for The Dream. Great book.
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Sandra Pedroza More than 1 year ago
interesting and easy to read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was great from beginning to end, one of the best books I have read this year...!
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KateCO More than 1 year ago
Wonderful book. Puts you in Chicago and New York City during the early 1900's.
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