Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Harry Bernstein, 101, author at age 96

NEW YORK - Harry Bernstein, whose acclaimed memoir of an English childhood haunted by anti-Semitism - The Invisible Wall - was published when he was 96, has died at 101.

NEW YORK - Harry Bernstein, whose acclaimed memoir of an English childhood haunted by anti-Semitism - The Invisible Wall - was published when he was 96, has died at 101.

Mr. Bernstein died Friday at his daughter's Brooklyn home, Bruce Frankel, a friend and author, said.

Critics have compared Mr. Bernstein's world of pain and prejudice to those of D.H. Lawrence and Isaac Bashevis Singer - and especially to Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes, which details McCourt's Irish upbringing.

Mr. Bernstein had written 40 other books but destroyed most of the manuscripts after they were rejected by publishers. His eventual success became an inspiration for other struggling authors, and in 2008 - at age 98 - he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship to pursue his writing.

After The Invisible Wall, Mr. Bernstein wrote three more books, including What Happened to Rose - to be published next year in Italy, where he has a following.

His books also have been translated and published in England, Sweden, Germany, Finland, Norway, Denmark, and Brazil.

In The Invisible Wall, Mr. Bernstein wrote about his bleak childhood in an English mill town, with Christians and Jews coexisting uneasily. For eight years he served as a messenger between his sister and the Christian youth she was dating, who lived across the street from their house in Stockport, near Manchester. The two had to keep their love secret because of religious prejudice.

His second book, The Dream, came out in 2008.

In 2009, he published his third memoir, The Golden Willow, about his married life; the title refers to a tree in Central Park under which Harry and his wife, Ruby, consummated their love.

Mr. Bernstein earned a living as an MGM movie script reader and as editor of a construction trade magazine.

It was not until he was 93, grieving his wife of seven decades, that he produced his first published works. He wrote at night, with the memories of his rough childhood spent battling an alcoholic father and anti-Semitism.

For years, Mr. Bernstein lived in Brick, N.J., near the Shore, but he was staying recently at the home of his daughter, Adraenne Bowe.

"When you get into your 90s like I am, there's nowhere else to think except the past. There's no future to think about. There's very little present," he told an interviewer in 2007, when The Invisible Wall was published.

After his wife's death, "it all came back," he said. "So I began to write, and I was occupied, and it was really the best therapy I could have had."

The book's title refers to the psychological barrier that divided Mr. Bernstein's side of the street - the Jewish side - from the Christian side in Stockport. Everyone was poor, eking out a living in the mills.

He recalls a childhood often spent running from Christian children intent on beating him up and neighbors standing in the street yelling, "Who killed Christ? Bloody Jews!"

The bias went both ways. Mr. Bernstein said that when his family walked by a church, they would spit to show their contempt.

Besides his daughter, Mr. Bernstein is survived by a son, Charles Bernstein, of Lansdale, Pa.