The Invisible Bridge
By: Julie Orringer
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.
This book has been sitting on my to-read pile for almost a year, which is a little embarrassing considering all of the wonderful things I’ve heard about it and how long I’ve been eyeing it myself. I guess the reason why it took me so long to get around to reading this book was because of the premise alone: the main character is a young Jewish man off to study in Paris during the rise of Hitler and the Nazi Party in Germany and in the shadow of the Second World War. In a way, you have to be in a particular mood to read a story set in that period. But I finally got around to picking up this book and alas, I could not put it down. May contain some minor spoilers ahead!
How to begin this review? Well, all of the praise about this novel is definitely true: Julie Orringer’s writing is so evocative, so detailed; it casts this particular atmosphere over the novel that it really feels like you’re living and walking around Paris in 1937, visiting the places that Andras lived and studied. The simple little pleasures like taking a stroll around the school grounds or working on an architectural assignment is written so vividly. It draws you into the world of Andras and his friends and family and I really enjoyed the early half of the novel in Paris. Even as Europe becomes darker and darker under the threat of Nazism and anti-semitism, life goes on, these characters still have passions and loves and dramas to resolve.
This novel is also a wonderful eye-opener to the events of the war from the Hungarian perspective. We have heard of how World War Two unfolded for many of the principal countries in Europe–France, Germany, Great Britain, Russia, Poland–but there are countries like Hungary who were involved but had different experiences with the principal actors. The Jewish population in particular fared rather differently compared to their other counterparts; they were still discriminated and subjected to hard labour but the Hungarian government it seems (and I would like to read more about this, if only to clarify how I understood it in the book) did not implement the same radical and isolationist Nazi policies until late in the war when the relationship between the two countries changed radically.
What really grabbed me in this novel was the characters and their relationships. Andras was fleshed-out and well-rounded character; the reader learns about his pasts, his dreams, his cares, his passions. From the moment he is introduced in the story, you’re rooting for him–that he’d get the girl, that he’d find out the mystery behind the Hasz family, that he’d finish his studies. When he’s suffering, you’re right there with him. Everyone associated to him–his parents, his brothers, his friends at the Ecole Speciale to the woman he loves–were all interesting and as a reader you end up caring for each and every one of them and hoping that they will make it to the end.
Overall, The Invisible Bridge is an amazing and involving read. After the first day or so, I really just could not put it down, I had to find out what happened next to Andras and his family and friends. Definitely one of the best novels I’ve read this year. I would highly recommend this novel to readers who enjoy reading historical fiction, fiction set in the World War Two era/Europe and those who enjoy reading family sagas and great character drama and development.