Synopses & Reviews
During the hard and bitter years of his youth in England, Harry Bernsteins 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 Harrys mother always dreamed was possible.
About 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.
Reading Group Guide
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 Yankels behavior toward his family? If he hadnt 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, Harrys mother says, “ ‘We cant 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 Harrys grandfather is a panhandler, she is horrified that he takes money from others. Why, then, was she so willing to ask her husbands family for the tickets to America? Discuss the many different definitions of charity in The Dream.
5. Harry cant 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. Yankels story of desertion is the reason Ada falls in love with him, and the reason she cannot abandon him. Do you believe, as Harrys 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 Harrys 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 Harrys grandfather continue to send money to the children who looked down on him, even after he wasnt invited to the wedding he paid for?
10. Harrys grandfather believed that he tricked Ada and pushed her into marrying Yankel. Do you think his financial assistance atoned for his lie about Adas first love, Samuel? Like Ada, have you ever experienced a moment that so completely changed the course of your life?
11. Harrys 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 mothers 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?