The Invisible Bridge

Sunday, April 29, 2012 – 9:30 am

The TBS Book Club will discuss the book entitled
 “The Invisible Bridge” by Julie Orringer.

Copies of the book provided by Adult Education are available in the Temple Library.

For a book review,

By ANDREW ERVIN of The New York Times


By Julie Orringer

602 pp. Alfred A. Knopf. $26.95

A few years ago, the permanent secretary of the Nobel Prize jury had some less than charitable things to say about American literature. “The U.S. is too isolated, too insular,” ­the secretary, Horace Engdahl, argued. “They don’t translate enough and don’t really participate in the big dialogue of literature. That ignorance is restraining.” His comments upset some people on our shores, but despite the obvious over­simplification he was right.

Recently, much of American literature seems to have been looking inward. That’s one of the many reasons Julie Orringer’s first novel, “The Invisible Bridge” (which follows her well-regarded story collection, “How to Breathe Underwater”) 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.

Orringer’s central character, Andras Levi, is a promising student of architecture who leaves his native Hungary to study in Paris in the late 1930s — until his scholarship is revoked when anti-Jewish laws go into effect. As you might expect, the trials he and his wife and their extended families face will grow exponentially worse in the years to come. Their happiest days and, later, their struggles, are rendered in sweeping, epic fashion.

The war in Europe drives Andras and his wife, Klara, apart, as it does so many of the people around them. After returning to Hungary, Andras is relatively lucky, assigned to a labor unit while others wind up on the brutal eastern front or at a mining camp in Siberia. Then, in a cruel twist, a newly exposed secret from Klara’s past threatens to further disrupt her family’s fortunes. The Levis’ experiences give us a close look at the terrible ways that enormous historical events can affect individual lives.

Not unlike a typical Hungarian meal, “The Invisible Bridge” might have benefited from the elimination of some fat in the first few courses. The slower pace wouldn’t necessarily pose a problem, except that it makes an already abrupt endgame feel more rushed. Orringer’s readers wind up bracing themselves in a kind of anticipatory dread, awaiting the greatest horror of the 20th century. All along we know, or think we know, what’s in store for Andras and his family.

Yet Orringer builds on that historical tension in very clever ways. We all know what happened in the Holocaust, even if few among us can ever understand it, and the close of the novel demonstrates the refreshing trust Orringer has in her audience. “The Invisible Bridge” provides another literary glimpse of the day-to-day horrors of that time, and also reminds us of the potential contributors to the postwar world — the architects and painters, the professionals and tradesmen — who were lost from Mitteleuropa. A brief epilogue, set in the United States, brings the monumental tragedy even closer to home.

Orringer has accomplished much in this novel, despite occasional outbreaks of purple prose. Then again, the vocabulary available to any artist to evoke the Holocaust is severely limited. Some things can never be adequately described. 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. For the time it takes to read this fine novel, and for a long time afterward, it becomes our world too.