Dream (Bernstein)

The Dream 
Harry Bernstein, 2008
Random House
288 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780345503893

During the hard and bitter years of his youth in England, Harry Bernstein’s selfless mother never stops dreaming of a better life in America, no matter how unlikely. Then, one miraculous day when Harry is twelve years old, steamship 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. For a time, they get 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. (From the publisher.)

The Dream is the sequel to Bernstein's 2007 memoir, The Invisible Wall.

Author Bio
Birth—May 30, 1910
Where—Stockport, England, UK
Currently—lives in Brick Township, New Jersey, USA

Harry Bernstein is the author of The Invisible Wall, which deals with his abusive, alcoholic father, the anti-Semitism he encountered growing up in a Lancashire mill town (Stockport— now part of Greater Manchester) in north west England, and the Romeo and Juliet romance experienced by his sister and her Christian lover. The book was started when he was 93 and published in 2007 when he was 96. The loneliness he encountered following the death of his wife, Ruby, in 2002 after 67 years of marriage was the catalyst for Bernstein to begin work on his book.

According to an article by Associated Press writer, Rebecca Santana, Bernstein first sent the finished manuscript to New York publishers but, having no luck, he sent it to the London office of Random House. There the book sat for about a year until it came across the desk of editor Kate Elton, who described it as "unputdownable."

"I think he's a most fantastic writer," Elton said. "He creates the characters of his family so vividly and tells such a moving story."

He finished writing his second book, The Dream, which centers on his family’s move to the United States when he was twelve. It was published in 2008.

Recently, he published his third book, The Golden Willow, which is the third memoir of his series involving his married life and later years.

Before his retirement at age 62, Bernstein worked for various movie production companies reading scripts and working as a magazine editor for trade magazines, and also wrote freelance articles for such publications as Popular Mechanics, Jewish American Monthly and Newsweek.

Bernstein currently lives in Brick Township, New Jersey. (Adapted from Wikipedia.)

Book Reviews
A wise, unsentimental memoir.... It’s hard to tell why Mr. Bernstein’s writings never blossomed into a career, or how he feels about this. He tells his tale without rhetorical fuss or disappointment, allowing even his father a moment of humanity, at Ada’s funeral. The tyrant has outlasted his victim, and now he is alone, the one thing he’d never wanted to be.
New York Times

Beneath the poignant descriptions of places and times past, beneath the rising and falling patterns of these characters’ lives, we hear what Wordsworth called "the still sad music of humanity."
Washington Post Book World

Packed with carefully crafted dialogue and descriptions that transport us, with keen verisimilitude, from working-class England to Depression-era Chicago.... Visceral, honest writing [makes] Bernstein’s memoir impossible to put down.
Jewish News Weekly

(Starred review.) 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.
Publishers Weekly

This coherent account of Bernstein’s life is a fascinating and well-written book.—George Cohen

Discussion Questions
1. Do you think Harry Bernstein achieved the American Dream? What about the other members of his family? Why did so many immigrants believe in the American Dream? Do you think it was really available to them?

2. How was Ava able to soldier on with a shred of optimism during difficult times? Do you think she truly believed that her dreams would come true? When did the dreams bolster her hope, and when did they cease to help?

3. What do you think contributed to Yankel’s behavior toward his family? If he hadn’t needed to work from the age of seven, began drinking as a child, or had fit a different role in his own family, might he have been a more loving father? Was he a product of nature or nurture?

4. Soon after the Bernsteins receive their tickets to America from the anonymous benefactor, Harry’s mother says,"We can’t go to America looking like beggars...." She would remember those words later and the irony they contained. (page 18). Later, when she finds out that Harry’s grandfather is a panhandler, she is horrified that he takes money from others. Why, then, was she so willing to ask her husband’s family for the tickets to America? Discuss the many different definitions of charity in The Dream

5. Harry can’t understand why his mother cajoles his father to come with them to America, especially since he was hoping to leave his father behind once and for all. What were her motives? What might their lives have been like if he stayed in England?

6. Yankel’s story of desertion is the reason Ada falls in love with him, and the reason she cannot abandon him. Do you believe, as Harry’s grandfather insists, that Yankel refused to leave Poland as a boy, or do you think his mother left him behind? Is this story the sole reason Ada gave him so many chances, or do you think some part of her still loved him?

7. "I felt with a sinking sensation that we were back to what we had come from" (page 38). Had the dream bubble Harry refers to in the beginning of the memoir already burst, so soon after they arrived in America? Have you experienced a moment like this, when you got what you had hoped for, but found that a better life was still out of reach?

8. Why does Harry’s grandfather seem to have such fortitude against hardship? How does he protect himself emotionally in a way that much of the rest of the family cannot? Do you have a family member who seems remarkably able to roll with the punches?

9. When Harry finds out that his grandfather has died, he thinks, "What a strange man he was...and how little we really knew of him, of the depth of his generosity, the sense of responsibility to his family, the goodness that was in him" (page 238). Why did Harry’s grandfather continue to send money to the children who looked down on him, even after he wasn’t invited to the wedding he paid for?

10. Harry’s grandfather believed that he tricked Ada and pushed her into marrying Yankel. Do you think his financial assistance atoned for his lie about Ada’s first love, Samuel? Like Ada, have you ever experienced a moment that so completely changed the course of your life?

11. Harry’s grandfather gives him a free ticket to a dance, and that is where he meets Ruby, the love of his life. Do you believe in fate? Serendipity? Love at first sight?

12. "I was not angry with my mother. I realized how dependent she was on me, how much all her hopes and what was left of her dreams were fastened on me, and—perhaps most important—how much protection I gave her against my father. And now there was Ruby" (page 208). Harry married Ruby despite his mother’s fear of losing him. How often must we sacrifice the contentment of others to improve our own lives? Have you ever done so? Was it worth it?

13. Who do you most admire in The Dream? Why? Is there someone in your own family who is like this character?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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