The Invisible Bridge
Author: Julie Orringer
Published: Knopf; May, 2010
Genre: Historical fiction
Synopsis: Even if this weren't her first novel, Julie Orringer's Invisible Bridge would be a marvelous achievement. Orringer possesses a rare talent that makes a 600-page story--which, we know, must descend into war and genocide--feel rivetingly readable, even at its grimmest. Building vivid worlds in effortless phrases, she immerses us in 1930s Budapest just as a young Hungarian Jew, Andras Lévi, departs for the École Spéciale d'Architecture in Paris. He hones his talent for design, works backstage in a theater, and allies with other Jewish students in defiance of rising Nazi influence. And then he meets Klara, a captivating Hungarian ballet instructor nine years his senior with a painful past and a willful teenage daughter. Against Klara's better judgment, love engulfs them, drowning out the rumblings of war for a time. But inevitably, Nazi aggression drives them back to Hungary, where life for the Jews goes from hardship to horror. As in Dr. Zhivago, these lovers can't escape history's merciless machinery, but love gives them the courage to endure.
My Take: There are some books that you don't want to keep reading because you think you know the outcome. When a book follows the lives of two desperately in love Jewish people during WWII, you don't want to get too involved in their story because if they live in Europe during this time period, as much as you hope, maybe this time the story will end differently, we all kind of know how the events will play out. Yet Orringer's novel, no matter how long it is, and believe me it is long, keeps you reading, because the love story contained within these pages is the only thing to hold out hope for. The only thing for those in this story to have a reason to endure.
When the story begins, times are not yet horrendous but there are rumblings. We meet Andras. A sweet, young Hungarian who wants to be an architect but in the early 1930s in his home country there is a quota and only a certain number of Jewish people can study to be architects in Hungary. He is lucky and gets a scholarship to Paris. For much of Andras' young life luck actually seems to be on his side for many unfortunate events are starting to unfold throughout the continent and they seem to pass over him. However we grow to love Andras as he falls in love with the older and wiser Klara. Theirs is a passionate love story, not without its problems and its naysayers and at first I was a little skeptical myself but I went with it and it swept me along.
Eventually all is no longer right in Paris for Hungarians and Andras and Klara are forced to leave, which if you know your history is probably for the best because they probably wouldn't have lasted long in Paris. Now is where it gets interesting and infinitely more sad for me. Upon arriving in Hungary the real war breaks out. For me, what was interesting was I knew little about Hungary's actual role in the war. I knew what happened to them afterwards and I've visited Budapest in my early 20s so I understood the layout of the city but their involvement with Germany and their treatment of the Jews was different than other Axis powers so it was interesting to read about.
See Hungary wanted to believe that it was better than Germany so it had labor camps for just the men, where the Jewish men where forced to work, like soldiers but in far worse conditions and only for a limited amount of time. Obviously as the war progressed and things got more dire, conditions became even worse but it did appear as though Andras was able to survive somewhat longer for having returned to Hungary than having stayed in Paris and being transferred to concentration camps.
Beyond that I don't want to give too much away. There is of course, a war and a battle to remain with ones family. All of the things that make this what I believe it is, an epic war novel but alas it is not for the faint of heart. It is long and you can not read it fast. The material is hard and can turn your stomach at times. It will make you long for something lighthearted and may make you depressed, yet this is history and worth reading about and there is passion and heart in this book. I would recommend it to historical fiction fans for sure. This book will be released in paperback on January 25th and will be much easier to carry around in that format for sure!
Cover Lust: I think this stark image of what I can only guess is the Danube in Budapest is a fitting image for this novel.
Stay tuned for a chat here with author, Julie Orringer, and a wonderful giveaway for 5 lucky people sponsored by Knopf on Tuesday!