I’ve had The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer since it came out in 2010. I decided it was finally time for me to read it!
About the Book:
We first meet Andras and Tibor Lévi in 1937. They are brothers, rooming together in Budapest while their younger brother Mátyás lives at home and reluctantly helps their parents with the family farm. They are also Jewish.
Tibor longs to attend medical school but has no way to pay for it; he has been working in a shoe shop to earn the money, painstakingly saving as much as he can. Andras, who dreams of becoming an architect, has just received a scholarship to study at the École Spéciale in Paris.
From this opening, the story traces the course of World War II. It primarily follows Andras, though plenty of others dip in and out of the narrative. Through it all, the characters struggle to hold onto one another and to find some semblance of normality in the face of the unimaginable.
When I read a novel about a well-known historical period or event, I often wonder what it would be like to read such a book with no knowledge of what came after. You can’t un-know the facts. It happened a particular way, it had a certain outcome, so no matter what happens to the characters you come to love, you know the general direction the story will most likely take. (Either that, or it turns out the author has written an anomaly story that you’re reluctant to believe: a highly lucky and improbable outcome, or a happy ending where none should exist.)
I really enjoy learning about history through fiction. Just a few months ago I became aware of the Lebensborn homes — an aspect of World War II I’d never even heard of previously — in My Enemy’s Cradle by Sara Young. Through The Invisible Bridge, I appreciated getting a look at the Hungarian side of the war. I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel with the same focus before. It makes me want to dig up the history of Hungary in World War II and learn more.
What I liked best about The Invisible Bridge is the range it covered. It’s not a short read, clocking in at over 700 pages (or 22 discs on audio, which is the format I opted for). It traces the Lévi brothers from happy days full of promise through the aftermath of the war. The author manages to make it feel like all that time is really passing — and I don’t mean that in a bad way. Rather than zooming in on a particular aspect of the war, Orringer manages to tell the family’s present story, plus the pasts of several characters, plus the politics and world news in which the story is embedded. It’s one of the broadest fictional accounts of World War II I’ve read.
I liked Orringer’s characters well enough, yet somehow they never quite came alive for me. I remember their names now, a month after I finished the book, but the details of their personalities, their likes and dislikes, their quirks and habits, have faded. It’s the history that remains in my mind more than the people through which I learned it. That’s not something I noticed while I was listening but rather became aware of after the fact. It’s not necessarily a flaw, of course, if the main aim is to tell the story and not craft exquisite characters.
The story itself was certainly interesting. There were the historical and war-related parts, of course. On top of that were the stories of the three brothers and their families. And there were a few stories about fringe characters that looped in and out of the main narrative as well. I was quite impressed that Orringer managed to keep everything straight and clear. Not once did I feel lost in all the stories and unfamiliar names.
I’ve had the print version of The Invisible Bridge on my shelf for years, but I opted for the audio in the end. I’m glad I did. There are a lot of foreign names and places and terms in the novel, and I tend to find it frustrating not to know how they’re pronounced. Listening to the book instead of reading it was a good workaround. The reader, Arthur Morey, was fine. Not stellar, but I have no complaints!
The Verdict: Enjoyable
If you like many-layered historical fiction or good World War II stories, I would recommend The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer. It’s long, but it doesn’t feel unnecessarily so. I definitely enjoyed it!
What works of fiction have taught you something about history?