Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Invisible Bridge

The Invisible Bridge,
by Julie Orringer

The Invisible Bridge is the story of Andras Lévi, a Hungarian-Jewish architecture student, who is studying in Paris in 1937 on the eve of World War II. He falls in love with a mysterious older woman, Klara, who brings her own set of complications. His older brother, Tibor, wants to study medicine in Italy, and his younger brother, Matyas, loves the stage.

Before long, Hungary is at war as part of the Axis powers. As Andras and his friends and family watch in horror, Hitler and the Nazis are overtaking Europe and spreading their horror throughout the continent.

The Invisible Bridge is 600 pages (hardback), crafted in the tradition of great, sprawling Russian novels. Following Andras, his friends, and family from Paris, to Budapest and the small towns of Hungary, to forced labor camps, The Invisible Bridge is about the great bonds of brotherhood and family, true friendship, love, and endurance. It's also about the healing power of art in the darkest times.

Author Julie Orringer got the idea for this book when she discovered that her grandfather had studied architecture in Paris as a young man. As a Hungarian Jew, he wasn't able to study in Hungary but was able to get admission to a French architectural school. After the war started, he lost his visa and had to return to Hungary, where he ended up being conscripted into forced labor.
“I knew he’d been in labor camps during the war, but I knew nothing about what had happened to him there or how he’d managed to survive. As I started to ask questions about that time, a series of amazing and devastating stories emerged, and a novel began to take shape in my mind—the story of a young Hungarian Jewish man who’d envisioned one kind of life but who was forced by the turnings of history to live quite another.”
Andras' story was inspired by her grandfather's experiences. I knew very little about the situation in Hungary during World War II, especially for the Jewish population, so I found this to be a fascinating read. Even now, Hungary has its share of right-wing fascists, just as it did during the war.
“In a sense, the fate of the Hungarian Jews is particularly painful because the deportations occurred long after the Nazis’ defeat was inevitable. For a long time, Hungarian Jews believed they would escape the fate of the Jews of other occupied nations—not only because the Hungarian government considered Jews necessary to the financial welfare of the country, nor only because so many Jews had served heroically in the First World War, nor even just because Hungarian Jews were particularly assimilated, but simply because the Nazis were bound to admit defeat before deportations could occur.”
This book was instructive and beautiful. I cried out loud in one of the final chapters. I loved reading about the friendship among the three brothers, in particular, and Orringer beautifully describes the way people survive terrible traumas and burdens.

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