The Invisible Bridge - Book of the Month
by Julie Orringer
In Hungary, 1937, the seeds of anti-Semitism have already been institutionalized and the best opportunities for Andras and Tibor Lévi lie abroad. Luckily for Andras, he has just received a scholarship to study architecture at the École Spéciale and, from Budapest to Paris, Julie Orringer’s realist detail invites the reader to occupy the space next to her protagonist aboard the Western Europe Express and to remain at his side for the duration of the novel.
The mesmerizing prose transports you across central Europe to the world of Parisian art, where Orringer establishes the vital link between place and sense of self as she explores the French capital with exquisite architectural accuracy. Andras takes little luggage on this great European adventure, just one suitcase and a letter that he has promised to deliver to a mysterious C. Morgenstern.
As the intricate story unfolds, initial acquaintances are drawn irrevocably into each other’s lives and at times it seems that Andras has inherited the good fortune of his father, Lucky Bela, as he finds work, acclaim and patronage when he needs them most. Orringer allows the reader to eavesdrop on the animated discussions of Andras’ fellow students at the Blue Dove café and to overhear Jewish responses to an increasingly hostile Europe. Where Rosen and his new girlfriend want to build a homeland in Palestine, Polaner is resolved to fight to defend France in the name of the ideals it is threatening to forget: liberté, egalité, fraternité.
Amidst all this political uncertainty, Andras falls in love with the enigmatic recipient of the letter he couriered. Paris, its ice rinks, opera houses and the statuesque buildings around rue de Sévigné, are described through the eyes of these lovers and their friends. But their moments of shared rapture are ephemeral, struggling to persevere through the untold horror of Morgenstern’s past and tainted by the prospect of imminent world war. Orringer relates a relentless onslaught of suffering – from the Munkaszolgalat call-up notices to the final grief of separation. Periods of harrowing sorrow are interrupted only by small reprieves of luck, or the intervention of a sympathetic senior official, as this war narrative chronicles the alternate cruelty and kindness of strangers.
THE INVISIBLE BRIDGE stands out within the genre of Holocaust fiction for its intimate characterisation of a Hungarian diaspora. Orringer presents her first novel as a monument to the memory of those Jewish émigrés whose lives were shattered by genocide.
Throughout her career as a writer, Orringer has been the recipient of a plethora of awards. Her first collection of short stories won the Paris Review’s Discovery Prize, two Pushcart Prizes, the Yale Review Editor’s Prize, Ploughshares’ Cohen Award and the North Carolina Book Award. THE INVISIBLE BRIDGE was funded by a grant from the 2004-5 National Endowment for the Arts.
Published by Penguin, 624pp.
Read our interview with Julie Orringer.