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The Invisible Bridge Hardcover – Deckle Edge, May 4, 2010
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Amazon Best Books of the Month, May 2010: 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. --Mari Malcolm
From Bookmarks Magazine
Given the novel's size and subject matter, critics can be forgiven for their initial skepticism over a 600-plus page book on the Holocaust--by a first-time novelist, no less. But they were very pleasantly surprised--astonished, even--at Orringer's beautifully rendered novel, which most believed, with its "sweep akin to that of Dr. Zhivago" (New York Times) and other classics, is destined to become a modern-day classic itself. Although one critic felt the novel could have used a more aggressive editor and others noted some overwrought language, most described The Invisible Bridge as a beautifully researched, old-fashioned love story, "the type Tolstoy might have scratched out with a gnawed pencil" (Onion AV Club). Four stars, or four-and-a-half stars? Only time will tell if we gave it a half too few.
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As Europe races towards war, a young Jew young Andras Levi travels to Paris to study architecture. Through school where he is a star, and the theatre where he works, Andras meets a parade of colorful characters. When set up with a girl, he instead falls in love with her mother, Klara. The two become swept up in a passionate affair, and in time she reveals the dark secret which forced her to flee Hungary sixteen years earlier. Orringer weaves a web of gripping digressive sub-plots, each of which pulls us along, but there is never any real doubt where these characters will end up -- Andras and Klara will spend the war back in their native Hungary.
With the library of novels written describing the Holocaust in Poland and Germany, and more seeming to appear every day, I found it fascinating to read Orringer's well researched descriptions of the experience of Hungarian Jews. Hated by the Fascist Arrow Cross Party, yet "protected" from Hitler by the regent Horthy they suffered abuse, humiliation, and often murder, but through much of the war were spared becoming grist for the mill of Nazi genocide. Hungarian Jews, as the last of Europe's great communities to be destroyed, as well as being perhaps the least considered, here receives a very fine elegy from the descendant of one survivor.
At heart, "The Invisible Bridge" is a war romance, much in the vain of "The English Patient" or even more Halprin's superb "A Soldier of the Great War." As such, one often has to suspend disbelief and the prose can at time graze against the purple. Coincidences abound. Our hero Andras, may indeed be too good to be true, though he does suffer from an excess of intellectual pride and a certain naïveté. Yet if you are someone inclined towards historical romances, such things are besides the point; you read on because you are compelled to do so, to see what becomes of these people, to pray that you see them safely and happily to the end. This would be an evocative piece of fiction even if it weren't Orringer's first novel. As such, it is simply extraordinary.
“The Invisible Bridge” is an intricately layered historical novel. At 758 pages, the book may seem long, but really shouldn’t be shortened, although it might require some patience. The first 300 pages are an indispensable foundation for the rest of the book. The book has several key strengths. First, Orringer avoids the pitfalls evident in so much of modern literature. She makes brilliant use of a deliberately old-fashioned realism. The second strength lies in the author’s ability to make us care so deeply about the people of her fictional world.
This novel starts out in 1937 and our primary character is Andras Lévi, a young Hungarian-Jewish man. When we meet Andras, he is getting ready to depart from Budapest and travel to Paris to study architecture. At the same time, we meet his brother who is staying behind for the moment but has the desire to study medicine in Italy and has been working towards that goal for years. As these two young men try to live their lives and pursue their dreams in a Europe that increasingly hostile to those of their religion, the reader gets a glimpse into the uncertainty, fear, and eventual horror experience by the Jewish people in this time period
While this novel is primarily historical fiction, there is a large component of romance which makes it a bit lighter read than other works of this type. Early on, the book explores a great deal about Andras's life in Paris as a student and the romantic entanglement in which he finds himself. Only later does the book become more substantive but the romantic aspect is never too far in the background. There are more happy coincidences than are realistic particularly in the beginning and that, along with the strong love story, cause the book to drop a star for me. Incredibly well written and often lovely prose make this a book that could have been absolutely fabulous. I enjoyed it tremendously and spent many happy hours caught up in the Europe of the 1930s and 1940s, but it falls slightly short of a ringing 5-star rating due to the previously mentioned issues.