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Paris, 1937. Andras Levi, a Hungarian-Jewish architecture student, arrives from Budapest with a scholarship, a single suitcase, and a mysterious letter he has promised to deliver to C. Morgenstern on the rue de Sevigne. As he falls into a complicated relationship with the letter's recipient, he becomes privy to a secret history that will alter the course of his own life. Meanwhile, as his elder brother takes up medical studies in Modena and their younger brother leaves school for the stage, Europe's unfolding tragedy sends each of their lives into terrifying uncertainty. At the end of Andras's second summer in Paris, all of Europe erupts in a cataclysm of war.
From the small Hungarian town of Konyar to the grand opera houses of Budapest and Paris, from the lonely chill of Andras's room on the rue des Ecoles to the deep and enduring connection he discovers on the rue de Sevigne, from the despair of Carpathian winter to an unimaginable life in forced labor camps and beyond, "The Invisible Bridge" tells the story of a love tested by disaster, of brothers whose bonds cannot be broken, of a family shattered and remade in history's darkest hour, and of the dangerous power of art in a time of war.
Expertly crafted, magnificently written, emotionally haunting, and impossible to put down, "The Invisible "Bridge resoundingly confirms Julie Orringer's place as one of today's most vital and commanding young literary talents.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 3.
- Review Date: 2010-02-01
- Reviewer: Staff
Orringer's stunning first novel far exceeds the expectations generated by her much-lauded debut collection, How to Breath Underwater. In this WWII saga, Orringer illuminates the life of Andras Lévi, a Hungarian Jew of meager means whose world is upended by a scholarship to the École Spéciale d'Architecture in Paris. There, he makes an unlikely liaison with ballet teacher Claire Morgenstern (née Klara Hász), a woman nine years his senior whose past links her to a wealthy Hungarian family familiar to Andras. Against the backdrop of grueling school assignments, exhausting work at a theater, budding romance, and the developing kinship between Andras and his fellow Jewish students, Orringer ingeniously depicts the insidious reach of the growing tide of anti-Semitism that eventually lands him back in Hungary. Once there, Orringer sheds light on how Hungary treated its Jewish citizens—first, sending them into hard labor, though not without a modicum of common decency—but as the country's alliance with Germany strengthens, the situation for Jews becomes increasingly dire. Throughout the hardships and injustices, Andras's love for Claire acts as a beacon through the unimaginable devastation and the dark hours of hunger, thirst, and deprivation. Orringer's triumphant novel is as much a lucid reminder of a time not so far away as it is a luminous story about the redemptive power of love. (May)
Get lost in an old-fashioned epic
Julie Orringer’s first novel, The Invisible Bridge, is an old-fashioned epic of two families caught in the maelstrom of Europe of the 1930s and ’40s. Demonstrating a sure-handed ability to balance intense personal drama with an account of the era’s epochal events, Orringer has created a work of impressive scope and emotional depth.
Andras Lévi, an idealistic young Hungarian Jew, arrives in Paris in 1937 to study architecture on scholarship at the École Spéciale. Soon he meets fellow Hungarian Klara Morgenstern, a gifted dance instructor nine years his senior and the mother of a teenage daughter. Her enigmatic past at first distances her from Andras and then draws the two closer as the storm clouds of war gather over France.
But Andras’ promising career is cut short in 1939, when his visa is revoked and he’s forced to return to Hungary. Klara soon follows, and the second half of the novel traces their increasingly desperate struggle to survive as Hitler’s armies move across Europe. Andras is drafted into the labor service and dispatched to a life of backbreaking and dehumanizing toil.
Orringer spares few details in describing the ever more perilous conditions he and his brother Tibor, a medical student who eventually joins him, must face. Meanwhile, Klara and her family slowly slip into penury, as representatives of Hungary’s puppet government extract escalating bribes to allow her to maintain a grim secret from her past. The odds that all of these characters will escape a dire fate grow longer as the novel proceeds, but the resolution for each is anything but predictable.
The story of Hungary’s Jews—more than 400,000 of them slaughtered by the Nazis—is perhaps not as well known as those of some of Europe’s larger Jewish communities. Though the pace of the novel flags at times, it’s easy to forgive Orringer’s desire to share with readers her intimate knowledge of the story’s time and place. In recounting the daring gestures, the miraculous escapes and coincidences separating those who lived from those who died in the blackness of the Holocaust, she captures most vividly “the excruciating smallness, the pinpoint upon which every life was balanced.”