Paris, 1937. Andras Lévi, a Hungarian-Jewish architecture student, arrives from Budapest with a scholarship, a single suitcase, and a mysterious letter he promised to deliver. But when he falls into a complicated relationship with the letter's recipient, he becomes privy to a secret that will alter the course of his--and his family's--history. From the small Hungarian town of Konyár to the grand opera houses of Budapest and Paris, from the despair of Carpathian winter to an unimaginable life in labor camps, The Invisible Bridge tells the story of a family shattered and remade in history's darkest hour.
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The story opens in 1937 as Andras is leaving Budapest for Paris, having unexpectedly won a scholarship to the Ecole Especiale d’Architecture to study. It is there that he meets the beautiful, but much older former Hungarian, Klara Morgenstern, a single mother, who teaches ballet to young French girls. She has a secret past that Andras has great difficulty extracting from her. They fall in love and so begins the family saga. In the background, antisemitism is luring its ugly head in France and the early rumblings of war are on the horizon.
We follow Klara and Andras as they leave France when Andras’ visa is revoked because he is Jewish and they return to Budapest. Orringer defined the role of Hungary in the war and it’s effect on its Jewish citizens. Hungary reluctantly aligned itself with Germany during the war but refused to deport any of its Jews until 1944 when Hitler invaded the uncooperative nation and replaced its leader with one he knew would cooperate. During the Nazi occupation, over 450,000 Hungarian Jews were exterminated.
But above all this is a story of family, their love and respect for each other, their loyalty to each other and their faith in each other and I found myself being drawn into this family, loving them, empathizing with them, and mostly wanting to know what would happen next. The characters were so fully formed, so complex that it was easy to be drawn in.
Orringer’s captivating prose hums along as she deftly weaves the coming of age story that is the first part of the book with the horrific holocaust story that takes up the second half. You know what’s coming but you can’t stop reading. You know it’s going to be horrible but you must keep turning pages. Blindly. Furiously. Into the night.
Very highly recommended.
The Invisible Bridge by
Andras Levi leaves Budapest to study in Paris. Restrictions had been placed on the number of Jews allowed to work or study and he can't get a place in a local university. In Paris, he struggles financially and falls in love. His brother, Tibor, goes to study medicine in Italy and his youngest brother feels trapped in their small hometown taking care of their parents. The Paris years are filled with the usual hope and expectations of any young man who is excited by his studies and in love. The reader, of course, is aware of what must happen soon, of an urgency completely absent from the lives of the story's characters. Sure, things are difficult and prejudice wasn't left behind in Hungary, but the politics of the day are so much less important than Andras' day to day concerns.
I knew next to nothing about what happened in Hungary during the war. If I thought about it at all, I simply assumed that it suffered the same fate of all those trampled and destroyed eastern European countries, so the story told here did hold surprises for me and the sometimes intrusive historical segments were necessary for my understanding of events. While the book sped up as the decade passed, losing the lavish detail of the years spent in Paris for a pared down recounting of life in Budapest during the war, I think that that suited the flow of the novel.
The first half of The Invisible Bridge takes place primarily in Paris, and serves to develop a rich cast of characters in a setting that is idyllic compared to what they have in store. Andras is established as a promising young architect; his brother Tibor, a physician. The brothers meet their future wives, and forge strong bonds with a group of peers. And then suddenly, new laws affecting Jewish immigrants change everything, and their close-knit group is scattered. The second half of the book covers the war years in harrowing detail, and it was interesting to read about World War II from a Hungarian perspective. Hungary was part of the Axis powers allied with Germany and Italy, but this was somewhat by force. Many of the characters in this book secretly hoped for Germany's downfall. Life was one struggle after another: labor servicemen were subjected to extremely poor conditions as well as physical and emotional abuse. It wasn't any easier for those left at home, as they faced food shortages and government corruption. And communication channels were poor, so people often didn't know how their loved ones were faring while they were apart.
The Invisible Bridge is a well-paced story of love and hardship, but it's also a long book (nearly 600 pages), and I lost concentration in the last 100 pages. Some aspects felt repetitive: Andras leaves for labor service, returns home, and is called up again. And then he comes home. And then he is called back. And ... well, you get the idea. Each time there were new plot developments both in his life and in the war, but I still tired of it. And yet, there was a lot of excitement in this story, as well as emotion, and I will not soon forget Andras, his family, and the hardships they had to overcome.
In The Invisible Bridge, the reader follows young Andras Levi, who was leaving his native Hungary to pursue an architectural degree in Paris. The first half of Orringer’s tome was devoted to Andras’ time in Paris – his struggle to afford tuition, his romantic entanglements with Claire and the affects of anti-Semitism in school. He and his friends – all Jewish – watched with an anxious eye as Hitler began his conquering of Europe. Eventually, Andras must return home, facing the reality that his homeland will enter war with him in it.
Being in a Budapest was one of the safest places for European Jews during World War II. Hungary was not keen on Hitler’s “Final Solution” policies, and while Jews were economically and politically repressed, it wasn’t until the end of the war that they faced the fates of their European neighbors. While you read about Andras’ struggles serving in the Hungarian labor force, you kept waiting for the other shoe to drop: when Andras would be killed, when his family would be “evacuated,” when senseless killing would begin. It was a weird sense of dread, knowing the inevitable would occur.
The Invisible Bridge is Orringer’s first novel, and she should be applauded for tackling such a tremendous subject. Admittedly, the second half of the novel – when Andras was back in Hungary – was the most engaging part of the story for me. The amount of pages spent of his time in Paris seemed a bit excessive, compared to his plight once Andras returned home. Nonetheless, I would recommend The Invisible Bridge to fans of World War II fiction – the story of Hungarian Jews was a different side to this war – and one readers might find educational and provocative.
A few words about the plot: at the outset, we meet Andras Levi, the central character, about to embark on the adventure of his life: studying architecture in Paris. Within the first few pages, we encounter everyone who will play a critical role in his world throughout the next several years, from Novak, the fellow Hungarian who befriends him on the train and offers him a job; the Hasz family, who ask him to deliver a box to their son Jozsef, also in Paris; his brothers, Tibor and Matyas; his circle of Jewish friends at the architecture school. It's a vivid portrayal of a world on the verge of disappearing and crumbling; as it does, Andras clings as long as he can to his dreams of building, in particular building a dream house that he and the woman he loves, Klara, can share. "In his mind he could page through a deep stack of them, those ghostly blueprints of a life they had not yet lived and might never" share.
The only major flaw with this novel, in my eyes at least, is that the ending felt rushed and was recounted indirectly -- almost as if the author became exhausted with her leisurely pace earlier on (this is a long novel...) and just really wanted it to be done, or because she couldn't figure out a way to tell the story she needed to about the eventual fate of many of the characters. It's OK, I suppose, but the big jump covers the most traumatic period for Hungary's Jews, from the summer of 1944 until the end of the war, and it's told after the event, mostly, by some characters to others. That's all that stopped this "thumping good read" from being a five-star book for me -- as it is, I'm awarding it 4.7 stars, a place on my memorable reads for the year and a recommendation to run out and read it, if historical sagas are your cup of tea.
There are two distinctive parts to this novel. The first part begins in 1937 when Andras Levi, a young, gauche Hungarian-Jewish man, comes to Paris to study architecture. He meets and falls in love with Klara, a woman nine years his senior. So far, so good. But with war on the horizon, things don’t remain calm for long, and Andras and Klara are forced to move back to Hungary. This novel covers a lot of ground, literally, from Paris to Budapest and the work camps of the Carpathians.
If you know anything about history, you know that things can’t turn out well for everyone, but you continue to read this book anyways. It’s a stunning panorama of WWII, as told from the point of view of a handful of normal, real people (based on the author’s family members’ experience). There are some heartbreaking, very real moments in the book, and I loved how the author described them.
There’s a point in the middle of the book where things get repetitive; Andras is drafted into the work camps, then returns home, then goes back to the work camps, etc. The author tends to skim over some of the more painful stories in the book (i.e., Klara’s past, which, despite the tragedy to it, I thought was remarkable). And in the second half of the book, Andras and Klara’s relationship fades into the background—as do their personalities. Be warned that this is an extremely intense book, but I literally couldn’t put it down—even though I usually find books on or set during WWII extremely depressing. You’d think that a novel on the holocaust might not be the best choice for this time of year (when I’m looking for beach reads), but I thought this book was excellent.
But this book is so much more than a war-torn romantic story. We follow many characters, see the struggle that families went through to survive these turbulent times. We also see that the Natzi policy toward the Jews was not a new thing, the Jews had been persecuted and discriminated against for centuries, and their being treated like lesser citizens was something they had come accustomed to. The Natzis took the treatment of Jews a step further, but many Europeans stood by in complacent silence.
Like painting a picture, the author’s beautiful writing and descriptive passages give depth and emotion to this story of love, courage, honor, and most importantly survival. Her ability to place you into this past time and make you feel such strong emotions is a testament to her talent. I highly recommend this book.
Orringer drew each character perfectly, complexly, and
The books offers readers a delicate and complicated love story, the story of a family struggling to survive, the story of secrets and the pain and loss they cause, and the story of what happens to people when everything they have including social status, wealth, and material goods are stripped away.
Don’t be discouraged by thinking this is just another Holocaust novel. It is unique. It tells the story of Hungary and Hungarian Jews, a story I knew precious little about. Hungary was an on Hitler’s side, but refused to deport its Jews until the German army invaded. So, the story is told from a unique perspective.
Julie Orringer writes in a smooth and fluid manner and although, the novel is long, the reading goes quickly. Her descriptions eloquently paint a scene for her readers. Here, Orringer describes the coming of Autumn:
“The scent of it blew through the channel of the Seine like the perfume of a girl on the threshold of a party. Her foot in its satin shoe had not yet crossed the sill, but everyone knew she was there.”
This novel will stay with me, unforgettable and a must read.
This book succeeds on so many levels. It is an epic story of the Levi family, Andras and his two brothers. This is also historical fiction at its best. Although World War II is the focus of much historical fiction, this book provides insight into the plight of Hungarian Jews, who for much of the war are "luckier" than those in Germany or Poland. Through the experiences of Levi, his wife, his brothers, and his friends, the horrors of this period of time are vivid and disturbing. (Although I seldom remember my dreams, I had a horrible nightmare one night after reading this book that sticks with me still.)
Orringer also does an amazing job of showing how we can become immune to recognizing the horrors of war. Several times throughout the story, Andras gets a lucky break. But to consider him lucky, given the situations he faces, is absurd. In fact, even when Andras gets a larger portion of food for the day or a safer work assignment, he is frustrated by the lack of control that he has over the situation.
This is not an easy book to read, but it is a masterpiece of historical fiction. I highly recommend it!
The Invisible Bridge begins with a young Hungarian, Andras, going to Paris to begin architectural school. There he learns about anti-semitism, homosexuality, adultery, and love. For most of the book, life seems to continually astonish Andras. He is a country boy thrown into the cosmopolitan big city, the Hungarian confronted with Western ideas and ideals, and the uninitiated learning about the unexpected complexities of relationships. At times I became a bit frustrated with his naivete. Could anyone really be that wide-eyed and trusting?
Slowly though the book begins to gather momentum, and it was like being on a train gathering speed as it heads for a collapsed trestle that only we can foresee. Tension builds until Andras and his family and friends are confronted with the ugliest sides of human nature: violence, betrayal, and death. Unfortunately, nearly at the end, the book switches from a narration of the present to a condensed, backward-looking narrative that lost a lot of its impact due to the sudden distance between the reader and the action. It's still a powerful story, but I wonder at the author's rather abrupt wrap-up of the last year of the war. Was she afraid the book was getting too long? Too painful to read?
In any case, I found the novel to be a compelling read and an interesting look at the role of Hungary in first saving and then deporting its Jews to Nazi camps and death. Orringer balances the brutality of hatred with the power of family connections and the sacrifices people are willing to make for those they love. In doing so, she rescues the book from being grim and cynical to one of survival and hope. Recommended.
Orringer's debut novel is certainly epic. It is the sort of story I can imagine Tolstoy penning. The story spans many years and reaches from one edge of Europe to another. It offers a unique perspective of the Hungarian Jews throughout World War II. For the large part, the Hungarian Jewish population did not receive as harsh of treatment as the rest of Europe's Jews though they were given few freedoms and worked in labor camps; it wasn't until the final months of the war, during German occupation, that an attempt to exterminate Hungary's Jewish population commenced. Interesting...
Except it wasn't. Hundreds and hundreds of pages are spent building up these characters that once the rages of world war rise up the events rush past. And that might work if I was invested in these characters. But, despite the considerable time spent molding the characters right in front of me, I wasn't invested and only because these characters and their stories weren't believable to me. The Lévi boys are saints. The relationships they have with their wives is worthy of an article in Marriage Partnership. The number of characters who come out of these atrocities alive—due to every convenience possible in a time of genocide—is hugely disproportionate to the facts. The Invisible Bridge seemed closer to an allegory or fairy tale set during WWII than an historical novel. There's a ton of good stuff in these pages, I just could believe in it enough to fall in love with it.
The speedy ending. The non-fleshed characters. The Invisible Bridge felt to me like a first draft. Maybe it was. Maybe after more than 600 pages Orringer was eager to move on to something else. Maybe the publisher was applying pressure. I don't know. There's certainly some potential in this one, but not enough to bridge the enormous gaps it leaves wide open.
Foreshadowing reveals only enough to keep pages turning through one of the best books ever written!
I only wished that the plot details didn't
I listened to this as an audio book on Audible and enjoyed the narration (Arthur Morey).
To start off with, a novel addressing the plight of Hungarian Jews is a reasonably unusual subject for a young American writer (though I don't think Americans are particularly provincial in the
In 1937, young Andras Levi leaves Budapest to attend architecture school in Paris. Through mutal friends in the theater, he meets an older woman, a ballet teacher with an-out-of-wedlock daughter, Klara Morgenstern, and they fall in love. This first part of the novel, full of school exams, ballet and theatrical performances, and Sunday dinners--as well as the anti-Semiticism and the growing German menace--might be a bit slow for some readers. It is beautifully written with many arresting images--the little girls in their white tulle clusered blizzard-like around the coffee cake served backstage--a woman's shoe peeking out slyly under the fabric wall during the segregated dancing of an Orthodox wedding--as Ms Orringer paints a portrait of a world that is about to come crashing down. During this part of the book, Andras and Klara have some individuality; they sometimes argue; they even separate for s short time.
Unfortunately, during the second half of the book, after Andras feels compelled to return to Hungary after his student visa expires, the characters start losing their individuality. They suffer; they become icons. Klara in particular slowly recedes into a pasteboard image of the suffering and noble wife, until the vital woman of Paris is nothing more than a Jewish Madonna with a baby's starfish hand at her breast. They become, in short, more symbols that characters that the reader cares about--or at least I cared about--and the novel suffers.
Look, I'm not blaming Ms Orringer. I don't know if it would have been possible for her to portray her beloved grandparents otherwise. And I yearn for a grand and sweeping novel, filled with sensory details and thought-provoking action, which she certainly provides. I'd be glad to read another one of her novels--especially one in which she doesn't stack the deck against herself from the start.
Andras has left behind not only his parents in Hungary, but his younger brother Matyas, still in school, and his older and much beloved brother Tibor. Tibor is working in Budapest, hoping to save enough money to attend medical school. Through one of the contacts that Andras develops in Paris, Tibor is granted a scholarship to study medicine in Modena, Italy.
The first part of the book tells of Andras' first two years of school in Paris. He takes a job at a theater, and through that meets the mysterious woman to whom he had posted the letter given to him in Budapest. After Andras' second year of school, Europe becomes engulfed in the Second World War. Andras must return to Hungary, where he conscripted in the Hungarian forced labor service.
World War II has spawned innumerable stories. So many of them are worth hearing and remembering. The story of the Jews of Hungary is one that is not told that frequently. Although The Invisible Bridge is fiction, there is much fact in the story. It is sad, but the the emphasis on the enduring nature of the human spirit is powerful.
I highly recommend this book!