The Invisible Bridge: History Is Personal

by |
07/21/2010 2:00 AM |

The Invisible Bridge

By Julie Orringer

About three-quarters of the way through The Invisible Bridge, the central character, Andras Lévi, and a close friend discuss the strategy behind the subversive newspaper they hope to publish for the men in their labor camp: “First we’ll make them laugh in the usual manner. Then, later, we’ll slide in a piece or two about what it’s like in a real camp.” Having followed the narrator’s descent into hell after so many months of romantic intrigue in Paris, it’s not hard to see Julie Orringer employing this same tactic.

Above all else, The Invisible Bridge is a love story, one that shows the sometimes ludicrous hope that love brings into our lives. It is also, impressively, 600-plus pages of stuff—;architecture, ballet, opera, World War II history. The book feels meticulously researched: all that information puts immense pressure on the characters and the narrative itself. Filled with coincidences that show the slim margin between life and death, the plot is pulled forward by this tremendous history.

Andras is a young Hungarian Jew who heads to Paris on a scholarship to study architecture. It’s 1937—;we know what’s ahead for him. But still, this is a young man in Paris: there are wild parties, late nights in cafes, and, of course, passionate love. After the Hungarian expat community works its magic on his life, Andras finds himself in the arms of Klara, a ballerina nine years his senior and mother of a difficult teenage girl. As in all good ove stories, Klara has a shady past, one that Andras—;and Orringer—;teases out slowly, and whose full impact isn’t felt until the lovers, hoping to be married, are forced back to Hungary. The most engaging and inspired chapters are those depicting Andras’s longing for Klara, and the slow, painful way Klara learns to share the dark truth of her past. It’s their intense connection that drives Andras—;and readers—to survive what lies ahead.

Scholarships are lost, visas denied, countries invaded. Orringer exquisitely catalogues this rise in pitch: how Andras and his family try and fail to maneuver within their ever-shifting reality. Almost to the end, the couple holds out hope for returning to the lives they led before the war—architecture school, a thriving ballet studio—;with their physical home in Paris becoming a powerful symbol of that life. When that home is finally sacrificed for the sake of survival, new hope continues to peek through the rubble: a baby; an old friend literally back from the dead; a way across the river, back to Budapest.

The brief epilogue of The Invisible Bridge takes us far from the world and characters we’ve been part of for 600 pages. Some might say it expands the story in a new way, giving it a certain immediacy, but it’s also fair to say that it shifts the lens of the story too drastically, potentially undermining and too quickly resolving the hope and love we felt just three pages earlier. It does make us wonder how we, as someone’s children and grandchildren, manage to stand up to the history—personal and otherwise—that came before us.