The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer

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The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Ruth Ng
Reviewed by Ruth Ng
Summary: Heavy to hold but incredible to read. I lived and breathed this brilliant, haunting novel from start to finish.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 600 Date: July 2010
Publisher: Viking
ISBN: 978-0670914586

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In a story that takes us from the elegance of Paris, through the streets of Budapest and on into the Hungarian countryside and the Ukraine this is an epic tale, masterfully told. It is 1937 and Andras Levi, a young Hungarian Jewish student, is about to leave his brother Tibor to go and study architecture in Paris. Andras' story unfolds first amongst the beautiful buildings of Paris, the theatres and the bars, as he struggles in his studies and falls in love with a beautiful ballerina who has a terrible secret to hide. As the tragedy of World War 2 edges ever closer to Andras, the book moves back to Hungary, to the little village where Andras and his brothers grew up, to Budapest where his new family live and then on into the forced labour camps across Hungary.

Julie Orringer's first book was a collection of short stories, about childhood and adolescence, grief and vulnerability. I loved her light touch, and the emotional intensity she managed to work into her stories. It has been seven years since that was published, and this looks, at first glance, to be an entirely different sort of book altogether. Yet for all its historical weightiness it is, once again, an emotional, moving piece of writing. Albeit 600 pages worth of it this time!

I feel as if I have lived several lifetimes whilst reading this novel. There is a sense of sharing everything with these characters, experiencing their daily lives moment by moment. Andras became terribly real to me and so, knowing the hand that history was about to deal him, my heart was in my mouth as I read, awaiting the tragedy that would surely occur.

The stories of the genocide, the holocaust atrocities, felt fresh somehow; newly horrifying and stomach-churning. The holocaust is all too horrifyingly familiar through books and films, yet it's a story that should never be forgotten, or stop being told. I think this one works in a different way because it isn't a book that sets out to be about the holocaust, it's rather the story of a young man called Andras and how the war changed his life.

The book's beginnings are in Paris, with a student lifestyle that is initially only slightly overshadowed by anti-semitism and the looming threat of war. The writing is shot through with the glamour and beauty of the city, portrayed against the poverty and sheer hard work by Andras in order to survive. Then it turns, seamlessly, into a love story; the story of Andras and Klara, of who they both are and whether they can ever possibly find a way to be together. As a reader you know what is coming, the horrors they will face, yet still you read the story afresh, from Andras' point of view - believing that perhaps Europe won't go to war, and perhaps his dreams of a life with Klara will come true.

Once they are back in Hungary the tone shifts again, and this time it becomes a war story, amazingly detailed, meticulously researched, yet still character-full, engaging, moving. We see Andras called up to the labour camps, the violence, the aggression, the utter unfairness of it all. He and Klara face problems because of being Jewish, but also because of Klara's secret history. Because we already know them both so well the horror seems worse, more personal, and it remains a love story, as well as a war story, as well as historical, as well as being a memorial.

The book is also interesting, I think, because the final half is set in Hungary. There was no German occupation there until 1944, so we get to see a different Jewish viewpoint on the war, in a country where although the Jews are forced into hard labour camps and maltreated they are, at least, alive and those left behind still have homes to live in, are able to work and eat and live. I didn't know very much about Hungary's part in the war, so found all of the historical detail very interesting. Orringer uses her detailed research cleverly, so that it is never thrust in your face but merely weaved into the story to enhance it and not overwhelm it.

I loved this book. I was frightened at the start by its sheer volume, by the unfamiliar Hungarian names and the prospect of some sort of generational saga-style story, yet I forgot all this as soon as I started to read because I became enraptured with the story, caught up in the character's lives. I was truly moved, and by the end, when I saw I had only 100 pages left I began to read oh so slowly, trying to savour the last moments of this beautiful story and her wonderful writing. I can't wait to see what she writes next, and can only hope it isn't another seven year wait!

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Further reading suggestion: Another gut-wrenching, beautiful story about this period that I would highly recommend is The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne. For more detail about this period in history you could try The Master Plan: Himmler's Scholars and the Holocaust by Heather Pringle.

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Buy The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer at

Booklists.jpg The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer is in the Orange Prize 2011.


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