In pre-World War II England, an “invisible wall” separated the Jewish residents of a working-class neighborhood from their Christian counterparts across the street. No bricks or laws or anything tangible kept the people apart; only the distinct cultural differences and long-held traditions, particularly of the Jewish people.
Harry Bernstein grew up in that neighborhood and has recorded the story of his oldest sister, Lily, who had much in common with the Christian boy right across the street. Arthur felt a kinship with the Jewish girl as well, but Harry’s mother reminded her at many times that those who fell in love with Christians would end up becoming “dead” to their families.
Even though the book is titularly about the love story between the two and how it eventually did transform the thinking of the people on the street, it is more about the Bernstein family and the experiences they had as poor working people just scraping by day to day. As in many memoirs (are memoirists required to have alcoholic parents?), the father has a serious alcohol problem, and his rough behavior towards his family as well as his drinking away most of their paltry income leaves them in sorrier circumstances than they had to be in otherwise. In this regard, the story feels all too familiar, but overall the book is generally insightful, poignant, and even delightful. Bernstein’s story is a welcome addition to the collection of books that chronicle the human experience in days long past.
Rated: Mild, for some mild and moderate language (the latter almost always referring directly to excrement).