The Invisible Bridge
Perhaps it's a need to make sense of what can never be understood, but I am drawn ineluctably to novels set in Europe during the Holocaust. And yet, were it not for the opening line, "Later he would tell her that their story began..." I'm not sure I would have willingly entered the world Julie Orringer has created in The Invisible Bridge. However these first words signal survival, allowing the reader to fully succumb to the sensual and intellectual enchantments of Paris student life in the Fall of 1937. A Jewish quota system already in place in their native Hungary sends brothers Andras and Tibor abroad to pursue their studies - Andras on an architectural scholarship to the École Spéciale d'Architecture in Paris, and Tibor less happily to Italy in medicine.
Orringer's truly luxurious descriptions of Paris, modernist visionaries and roiling political ferment set amidst medieval cobblestones and gargoyles, provide the perfect backdrop for a mesmerizing love story. A series of fateful turns of plot lead Andras into the arms of the secretive Klara, a fellow Hungarian émigré, several years his senior. I, for one, know that "real" life is filled with improbable coincidences and Klara is a deeply nuanced character worth storming barricades to get to.
As the anti-Semitic incidents increase in Paris, visa issues force Andras and Klara to return to Hungary. The story shifts with a savage elegance to a Nazi-doomed landscape of shattered families and lovers, and where Andras is first conscripted to Munkaszolgalat, a forced labor camp and later shipped to the Ukraine for hard labor.
Now is the time to recall the first line of the novel.
Make no mistake, once begun I read this novel feverishly, hours at a time, and upon completion was exhilarated and longed to talk to someone about it. The Invisible Bridge is a stunning first novel with the scope and diversity of Tolstoy, and as stylistically different from her equally brilliant short story collection How to Breathe Underwater as could be imagined. There are few writers with this breadth, putting Orringer in the league of David Mitchell and Richard Powers. High praise indeed. -- Margaret Simpson
Indie Next ListMay 2010
The Invisible Bridge will make you forget every other novel you've ever read about World War II.Through the lives of two Hungarian Jewish brothers whose fates span the vibrant student cafes of 1930s Paris to the backbreaking labor camps on the Eastern Front, Orringer creates an entire universe, breathtaking in its breadth and extraordinary in its intimacy. -- Elizabeth Sher, Politics & Prose Books &, Washington, DC
Julie Orringer’s astonishing first novel, eagerly awaited since the publication of her heralded best-selling short-story collection, How to Breathe Underwater (“fiercely beautiful”—The New York Times; “unbelievably good”—Monica Ali), is a grand love story set against the backdrop of Budapest and Paris, an epic tale of three brothers whose lives are ravaged by war, and the chronicle of one family’s struggle against the forces that threaten to annihilate it.
Paris, 1937. Andras Lévi, 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 Sévigné. 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 Konyár to the grand opera houses of Budapest and Paris, from the lonely chill of Andras’s room on the rue des Écoles to the deep and enduring connection he discovers on the rue de Sévigné, 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.
About the Author
Julie Orringer is the author of the award-winning short-story collection How to Breathe Underwater, which was a New York Times Notable Book. She is the winner of The Paris Review’s Discovery Prize and the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, Stanford University, and the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library. She lives in Brooklyn, where she is researching a new novel.
Praise for The Invisible Bridge…
Praise for Julie Orringer’s The Invisible Bridge
"One of the best books of the year."
—Junot Diaz, author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
“If you’re still looking for a ‘big’ novel to carry into the summer holidays—one in which you can lose yourself without the guilty suspicion that you’re slumming—then Julie Orringer’s The Invisible Bridge is the book you want. . . . Stunning. . . . In every admirable sense an ‘ambitious’ historical novel, in which large human emotions—profound love, familial bonds and the deepest of human loyalties—play out against the backdrop of unimaginable cruelty. . . . Orringer traverses this perilous rhetorical terrain with remarkable—and, more important, convincing, self-possession. . . . Remarkably affecting. . . . A life powerfully, unsentimentally and inspiringly evoked in this gracefully written and altogether remarkable first novel.”
—Tim Rutten, The Los Angeles Times
“The Invisible Bridge deserves to be praised. It takes the introspective themes we’ve loved so well in American literature—from Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself to A. M. Homes’s Music for Torching—and points them in a different direction. . . . Rendered in sweeping, epic fashion . . . a close look at the terrible ways that enormous historical events can affect individual lives. . . . The strength of The Invisible Bridge lies in Orringer’s ability to make us care so deeply about the people of her all-too-real fictional world.”
—Andrew Ervin, The New York Times Book Review (Editor’s Choice)
“Evocative . . . exquisitely precise . . . rapturous . . . uses history as a backdrop to her story’s grand passions with a sweep akin to that of Dr. Zhivago. . . . The horrors of war never become Ms. Orringer’s primary subject. She devotes far more attention to conveying the intricacies of Jewish life . . . writing with both granddaughterly reverence and commanding authority.”
—Janet Maslin, The New York Times
“Intricately layered. . . . We have seen images like these . . . in the literature of eyewitnesses such as Elie Wiesel and Imre Kertész. . . . [Orringer makes] brilliant use of a deliberately old-fashioned realism to define individual fates engulfed by history’s deadly onrush. . . . With its moving acknowledgment of the gap between what’s been lost and what can be imagined, this remarkably accomplished first novel is itself, in the continuing stream of Holocaust literature, an invisible bridge.”
—Donna Rifkind, The Washington Post Book World
“Truly breathtaking . . . gloriously rendered . . . a sensual feast. . . . I didn’t want it to end.”
—Debra Spark, San Francisco Chronicle
“A straightforward storyteller, [Orringer] captures our attention with her sympathetic characters and lets her deft handling of time and place do the rest. She never indulges in melodrama. In her hands, the human drama, pared to its essentials, is heartbreaking—and inspiring—enough.”
—Lloyd Sachs, Chicago Sun-Times
“Haunting. . . . [The Invisible Bridge] exhibits wonderfully evoked realism. . . . A literary throwback of sorts, a fat facsimile of a nineteenth-century novel, the kind of story that critics would faintly praise as ‘sweeping’ (commonly meaning they write it off in other respects) were the author not so obviously endowed with talent, and the novel’s particularities so vibrant.”
—Art Winslow, The Chicago Tribune
“Dazzling . . . Like Tolstoy and Stendhal, she chronicles sea changes in European history through the eyes of finely fashioned characters, and like them she has created a story simultaneously epic and intimate. . . . An ambitious slice of literature, but Orringer fulfills her ambitions with crisp writing. . . . This stunning work manages to feel both original and part and parcel of the well-blazed tradition of historical novels that came before it.”
—Keith Staskiewicz, Entertainment Weekly (Grade: A)
“Bold, ambitious . . . beautiful, breathtaking and vital. . . . Orringer’s prose is unfaltering, and she shows remarkable skill in weaving together the two main sections of the novel—the first part, a coming-of-age story reminiscent of early parts of W. Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage; and the second part, a tense account of a family threatened with war and hatred, which recalls the heroic, romantic realism of Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. . . . The Invisible Bridge might not be the novel that Orringer’s fans were expecting, but it’s every bit as powerful and haunting as her debut. She’s no longer just a writer to watch—she’s a writer to follow, and one whose talent, daring and compassion are beginning to look boundless.”
—Michael Schaub, NPR.org
“Orringer avoids bathos and has a gift for re-creating distant times and places: a Paris suffused with the scent of paprikas and the sounds of American jazz, the camraderies and cruelties of the work camps. The ticking clock of history keeps it urgent and moving forward, and the result is, against all odds, a Holocaust page-turner. Buy it.”
—New York magazine
“What begins as a jewel-box romance soon breaks open into a harrowing saga of war. Orringer, drawing upon assiduous research into Hungarian history (and her own), conveys a piercing sense of what it means to be fated by one’s blood, as well as a rich understanding of the capricious nature of survival.”
“The Invisible Bridge is an unabashedly big, wartime epic à la Dr. Zhivago, with ‘They Can’t Take That Away From Me’ as a theme song instead of a balalaika ballad. And when it comes to the memory of love, you can’t do better than Gershwin.”
—Yvonne Zipp, The Christian-Science Monitor
“A Tolstoy-esque novel of the Holocaust, one that tracks the passage of quotidian life and the flutter of the human heart against the implacable roil of history. The Invisible Bridge brings the pre- and early-World War II period to life in a way I can only compare to Suite Francaise, which was actually written at that time. . . . Meanwhile, the love story that unfolds in Orringer’s pages is as romantic as Doctor Zhivago, and the seamless, edifying integration of truckloads of historical and topical research (architecture, ballet, mid-century Paris neighborhoods) brings to mind Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. . . . I was stunned, then awed.”
—Marion Winik, Newsday
“Julie Orringer’s sense of history, her keen eye for the smallest of details, her in-depth characterizations, help make her first novel, The Invisible Bridge, an astonishing read. But what is arguably best about this epic story of Hungarian Jews in the mid-20th century is the author’s keen sense of pace and storytelling that unfurls the 602 pages with breathtaking (and heartbreaking) speed.”
—Rege Behe, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
“A rare achievement, a hefty and compellingly readable piece of literature that, published mere weeks ago, feels as if it pre-dates the author’s own 37 years. . . . In the expansive tradition of Pasternak or Tolstoy, Orringer seduces us . . . . Big, passionate ideas illustrated in so much masterly detail that we can taste and smell and see. . . . The Invisible Bridge is dense with a master’s intelligence.”
—Darren Sextro, The Kansas City Star
“This is a big, old-fashioned love story set against the backdrop of war—the type Tolstoy might have scratched out with a gnawed pencil—but it’s also a modern riff on architecture, existentialism, and how people persist in making and remaking their lives when ‘the world has lost its mind’ . . . . The romantic exploits in Paris . . . are breathy and gilded, yet they never spill over completely into melodrama. . . . The small miracles that abound in Orringer’s novel make a strong argument that literature is the best way to get at the core of something in absentia.”
—Gregg LaGambina, The A. V. Club (Grade: A)
“[Orringer] imbues the novel with a luminosity equally at odds with and inherent to Holocaust-themed works, wherein a turn of phrase results in a turn of fate, or a happenchance encounter results in a relationship that saves a soul. No less miraculous, however, are the tools by which Orringer builds these connections: Her writing is glorious, at times awe-inspiring. Her research is painstaking and deftly woven into the body of her work—never academic, yet consistently learned. And her grasp of detail—her knowledge of and affiliation with place—is front and center, highlighting the feisty merger of architecture and culture, theatrical review and politics, that roiled in the lull between the world’s great wars, that roils still.”
—Ellen Urbani, The Oregonian
“A major talent. . . . Reminiscent of 19th-century novels. . . . This fascinating book . . . has much to say about war, and how it affects individuals indiscriminately, changing their dreams.”
—Anne Morris, The Dallas Morning News
“Brilliant. . . . Orringer covers the darkest matters with a tender authority while imbuing her characters with the subtle, endless dimensions of love and suffering. . . . It’s an arduous charge, and Orringer has succeeded: She’s written a Shoah novel that is gripping, fresh and worth remembering and, unlike much of the ephemera consumed poolside this summer, this novel will endure.”
—Allison Yarrow, The Jewish Daily Forward
“The sheer joy of storytelling fills each moment of Orringer’s novel. Like Tolstoy and Eliot’s work, it transports us completely into its world—that of young Andras, his friends, family and loves—and a landscape of war and redemption. Thrilling, tender, and terrifying; a glorious reminder of how books can change our lives. It is the novel of the year.”
—Andrew Sean Greer
“To bring an entire lost world—its sights, its smells, its heartaches, raptures and terrors—to vivid life between the covers of a novel is an accomplishment; to invest that world, and everyone who inhabits it, with a soul, as Julie Orringer does in The Invisible Bridge, takes something more like genius.”
“Orringer’s stunning first novel far exceeds the expectations generated by her much-lauded debut collection, How to Breathe Underwater. . . . 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.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review, pick of the week)
“A long, richly detailed debut novel from prizewinning short-story writer Orringer. . . . Her story develops without sentimentality or mawkishness, though it is full of grand emotions. Though the events of the time, especially in Hungary, are now the stuff of history books and increasingly fewer firsthand memories, Orringer writes without anachronism, and convincingly. Written with the big picture view of Doctor Zhivago or Winds of War—and likely to be one of the big books of the season.”
“A hugely ambitious undertaking, but [Orringer] has every detail under control, from the architectural currents in Europe in the 1930s to the day-to-day struggle to survive. . . . Completely absorbing . . . an astonishing achievement.”
—Mary Ellen Quinn, Booklist (starred review)
Praise for How to Breathe Underwater
“Orringer’s engaging wit, her eye for detail, her ear for patterns of speech and thought, and her insights into human nature proclaim her a writer to be reckoned with.”
—Merle Rubin, Los Angeles Times
“The harsh landscape in which Orringer’s characters dwell corresponds to the fierce beauty of her writing. Even the grimmest of these stories conveys, along with anguish, a child’s spark of mystery and wonder.”
—Lisa Dierbeck, The New York Times Book Review
“A major new talent. . . . A dark and beautiful book.”
—Heidi Benson, San Francisco Chronicle Magazine
“Unclouded by sentimentality . . . Orringer writes with penetrating intelligence and remarkable self-possession.”
—Amanda Heller, The Boston Globe