The New York Times
The Invisible Bridgeby Julie Orringer
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/i>/i>
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.
The New York Times
The New York Times Book Review
The Washington Post
"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
Read an Excerpt
Later he would tell her that their story began at the Royal Hungarian Opera House, the night before he left for Paris on the Western Europe Express. The year was 1937; the month was September, the evening unseasonably cold. His brother had insisted on taking him to the opera as a parting gift. The show was Tosca and their seats were at the top of the house. Not for them the three marble-arched doorways, the façade with its Corinthian columns and heroic entablature. Theirs was a humble side entrance with a red-faced ticket taker, a floor of scuffed wood, walls plastered with crumbling opera posters. Girls in knee-length dresses climbed the stairs arm in arm with young men in threadbare suits; pensioners argued with their white-haired wives as they shuffled up the five narrow flights. At the top, a joyful din: a refreshment salon lined with mirrors and wooden benches, the air hazy with cigarette smoke. A doorway at its far end opened onto the concert hall itself, the great electric-lit cavern of it, with its ceiling fresco of Greek immortals and its gold-scrolled tiers. Andras had never expected to see an opera here, nor would he have if Tibor hadn’t bought the tickets. But it was Tibor’s opinion that residence in Budapest must include at least one evening of Puccini at the Operaház. Now Tibor leaned over the rail to point out Admiral Horthy’s box, empty that night except for an ancient general in a hussar’s jacket. Far below, tuxedoed ushers led men and women to their seats, the men in evening dress, the women’s hair glittering with jewels.
“If only Mátyás could see this,” Andras said.
“He’ll see it, Andráska. He’ll come to Budapest when he’s got his baccalaureate, and in a year he’ll be sick to death of this place.”
Andras had to smile. He and Tibor had both moved to Budapest as soon as they graduated from gimnázium in Debrecen. They had all grown up in Konyár, a tiny village in the eastern flatlands, and to them, too, the capital city had once seemed like the center of the world. Now Tibor had plans to go to medical college in Italy, and Andras, who had lived here for only a year, was leaving for school in Paris. Until the news from the École Spéciale d’Architecture, they had all thought Tibor would be the first to go. For the past three years he’d been working as a salesclerk in a shoe store on Váci utca, saving money for his tuition and poring over his medical textbooks at night as desperately as if he were trying to save his own life. When Andras had moved in with him a year earlier, Tibor’s departure had seemed imminent. He had already passed his exams and submitted his application to the medical school at Modena. He thought it might take six months to get his acceptance and student visa. Instead the medical college had placed him on a waiting list for foreign students, and he’d been told it might be another year or two before he could matriculate.
Tibor hadn’t said a word about his own situation since Andras had learned of his scholarship, nor had he shown a trace of envy. Instead he had bought these opera tickets and helped Andras make his plans. Now, as the lights dimmed and the orchestra began to tune, Andras was visited by a private shame: Though he knew he would have been happy for Tibor if their situations had been reversed, he suspected he would have done a poor job of hiding his jealousy.
From a door at the side of the orchestra pit, a tall spindling man with hair like white flames emerged and stepped into a spotlight. The audience shouted its approval as this man made his way to the podium. He had to take three bows and raise his hands in surrender before they went quiet; then he turned to the musicians and lifted his baton. After a moment of quivering stillness, a storm of music rolled out of the brass and strings and entered Andras’s chest, filling his ribcage until he could scarcely breathe. The velvet curtain rose to reveal the interior of an Italian cathedral, its minutiae rendered in perfect and intricate detail. Stained-glass windows radiated amber and azure light, and a half-completed fresco of Mary Magdalene showed ghostly against a plaster wall. A man in striped prison garb crept into the church to hide in one of the dark chapels. A painter came in to work on the fresco, followed by a sexton bent upon making the painter tidy up his brushes and dropcloths before the next service. Then came the opera diva Tosca, the model for Mary Magdalene, her carmine skirts swirling around her ankles. Song flew up and hovered in the painted dome of the Operaház: the clarinetlike tenor of the painter Cavaradossi, the round basso of the fugitive Angelotti, the warm apricotty soprano of the fictional diva Tosca, played by the real Hungarian diva Zsuzsa Toronyi. The sound was so solid, so tangible, it seemed to Andras he could reach over the edge of the balcony and grab handfuls of it. The building itself had become an instrument, he thought: The architecture expanded the sound and completed it, amplified and contained it.
“I won’t forget this,” he whispered to his brother.
“You’d better not,” Tibor whispered back. “I expect you to take me to the opera when I visit you in Paris.”
At the intermission they drank small cups of black coffee in the refreshment salon and argued over what they’d seen. Was the painter’s refusal to betray his friend an act of selfless loyalty or self-glorifying bravado? Was his endurance of the torture that followed meant to be read as a sublimation of his sexual love for Tosca? Would Tosca herself have stabbed Scarpia if her profession hadn’t schooled her so thoroughly in the ways of melodrama? There was a bittersweet pleasure in the exchange; as a boy, Andras had spent hours listening to Tibor debate points of philosophy or sport or literature with his friends, and had pined for the day when he might say something Tibor would find witty or incisive. Now that he and Tibor had become equals, or something like equals, Andras was leaving, getting on a train to be carried hundreds of kilometers away.
“What is it?” Tibor said, his hand on Andras’s sleeve.
“Too much smoke,” Andras said, and coughed, averting his eyes from Tibor’s. He was relieved when the lights flickered to signal the end of the intermission.
After the third act, when the innumerable curtain calls were over—the dead Tosca and Cavaradossi miraculously revived, the evil Scarpia smiling sweetly as he accepted an armload of red roses—Andras and Tibor pushed toward the exit and made their way down the crowded stairs. Outside, a faint scattering of stars showed above the wash of city light. Tibor took his arm and led him toward the Andrássy side of the building, where the dress-circle and orchestra-floor patrons were spilling through the three marble arches of the grand entrance.
“I want you to have a look at the main foyer,” Tibor said. “We’ll tell the usher we left something inside.”
Andras followed him through the central doorway and into the chandelier-lit hall, where a marble stairway spread its wings toward a gallery. Men and women in evening dress descended, but Andras saw only architecture: the egg-and-dart molding along the stairway, the cross-barrel vault above, the pink Corinthian columns that supported the gallery. Miklós Ybl, a Hungarian from Székesfehérvár, had won an international competition to design the opera house; Andras’s father had given him a book of Ybl’s architectural drawings for his eighth birthday, and he had spent many long afternoons studying this space. As the departing audience flowed around him, he stared up into the vault of the ceiling, so intent upon reconciling this three-dimensional version with the line drawings in his memory that he scarcely noticed when someone paused before him and spoke. He had to blink and force himself to focus upon the person, a large dovelike woman in a sable coat, who appeared to be begging his pardon. He bowed and stepped aside to let her pass.
“No, no,” she said. “You’re just where I want you. What luck to run into you here! I would never have known how to find you.”
He struggled to recall when and where he might have met this woman. A diamond necklace glinted at her throat, and the skirt of a rose silk gown spilled from beneath her pelisse; her dark hair was arranged in a cap of close-set curls. She took his arm and led him out onto the front steps of the opera house.
“It was you at the bank the other day, wasn’t it?” she said. “You were the one with the envelope of francs.”
Now he knew her: It was Elza Hász, the wife of the bank director. Andras had seen her a few times at the great synagogue on Dohány utca, where he and Tibor went for an occasional Friday night service. The other day at the bank he’d jostled her as she crossed the lobby; she’d dropped the striped hatbox she was carrying, and he’d lost his grip on his paper folder of francs. The folder had opened, discharging the pink-and-green bills, and the money had fluttered around their feet like confetti. He’d dusted off the hatbox and handed it back to her, then watched her disappear though a door marked private.
“You look to be my son’s age,” she said now. “And judging from your currency, I would guess you’re off to school in Paris.”
“Tomorrow afternoon,” he said.
“You must do me a great favor. My son is studying at the Beaux-Arts, and I’d like you to take a package for him. Would it be a terrible inconvenience?”
A moment passed before he could respond. To agree to take a package to someone in Paris would mean that he was truly going, that he intended to leave his brothers and his parents and his country behind and step into the vast unknown of Western Europe.
“Where does your son live?” he asked.
“The Quartier Latin, of course,” she said, and laughed. “In a painter’s garret, not in a lovely villa like our Cavaradossi. Though he tells me he has hot water and a view of the Panthéon. Ah, there’s the car!” A gray sedan pulled to the curb, and Mrs. Hász lifted her arm and signaled to the driver. “Come tomorrow before noon. Twenty-six Benczúr utca. I’ll have everything ready.” She pulled the collar of her coat closer and ran down to the car, not pausing to look back at Andras.
“Well!” Tibor said, coming out to join him on the steps. “Suppose you tell me what that was all about.”
“I’m to be an international courier. Madame Hász wants me to take a box to her son in Paris. We met at the bank the other day when I went to exchange pengö? for francs.”
“And you agreed?”
Tibor sighed, glancing off toward the yellow streetcars passing along the boulevard. “It’s going to be awfully dull around here without you, Andráska.”
“Nonsense. I predict you’ll have a girlfriend within a week.”
“Oh, yes. Every girl goes mad for a penniless shoe clerk.”
Andras smiled. “At last, a little self-pity! I was beginning to resent you for being so generous and coolheaded.”
“Not at all. I could kill you for leaving. But what good would that do? Then neither of us would get to go abroad.” He grinned, but his eyes were grave behind his silver-rimmed spectacles. He linked arms with Andras and pulled him down the steps, humming a few bars from the overture. It was only three blocks to their building on Hársfa utca; when they reached the entry they paused for a last breath of night air before going up to the apartment. The sky above the Operaház was pale orange with reflected light, and the streetcar bells echoed from the boulevard. In the semidarkness Tibor seemed to Andras as handsome as a movie legend, his hat set at a daring angle, his white silk evening scarf thrown over one shoulder. He looked at that moment like a man ready to take up a thrilling and unconventional life, a man far better suited than Andras to step off a railway car in a foreign land and claim his place there. Then he winked and pulled the key from his pocket, and in another moment they were racing up the stairs like gimnázium boys.
Mrs. Hász lived near the Városliget, the city park with its storybook castle and its vast rococo outdoor baths. The house on Benczúr utca was an Italianate villa of creamy yellow stucco, surrounded on three sides by hidden gardens; the tops of espaliered trees rose from behind a white stone wall. Andras could make out the faint splash of a fountain, the scratch of a gardener’s rake. It struck him as an unlikely place for Jewish people to live, but at the entrance there was a mezuzah nailed to the doorframe—a silver cylinder wrapped in gold ivy. When he pressed the doorbell, a five-note chime sounded from inside. Then came the approaching click of heels on marble, and the throwing back of heavy bolts. A silver-haired housemaid opened the door and ushered him in. He stepped into a domed entrance hall with a floor of pink marble, an inlaid table, a sheaf of calla lilies in a Chinese vase.
“Madame Hász is in the sitting room,” the housemaid said.
He followed her across the entry hall and down a vaulted corridor, and they stopped just outside a doorway through which he could hear the crescendo and decrescendo of women’s voices. He couldn’t make out the words, but it was clear that there was an argument in progress: One voice climbed and peaked and dropped off; another, quieter than the first, rose and insisted and fell silent.
“Wait here a moment,” the housemaid said, and went in to announce Andras’s arrival. At the announcement the voices exchanged another brief volley, as if the argument had something to do with Andras himself. Then the housemaid reappeared and ushered Andras into a large bright room that smelled of buttered toast and flowers. On the floor were pink-and-gold Persian rugs; white damask chairs stood in conversation with a pair of salmon-colored sofas, and a low table held a bowl of yellow roses. Mrs. Hász had risen from her chair in the corner. At a writing desk near the window sat an older woman in widow’s black, her hair covered with a lace shawl. She held a wax-sealed letter, which she set atop a pile of books and pinned beneath a glass paperweight. Mrs. Hász crossed the room to meet Andras and pressed his hand in her large cold one.
“Thank you for coming,” she said. “This is my mother-in-law, the elder Mrs. Hász.” She nodded toward the woman in black. The woman was of delicate build, with a deep-lined face that Andras found lovely despite its aura of grief; her large gray eyes radiated quiet pain. He gave a bow and pronounced the formal greeting: Kezét csókolom, I kiss your hand.
The elder Mrs. Hász nodded in return. “So you’ve agreed to take a box to József,” she said. “That was very kind of you. I’m sure you have a great deal to think about already.”
“It’s no trouble at all.”
“We won’t keep you long,” said the younger Mrs. Hász. “Simon is packing the last items now. I’ll ring for something to eat in the meantime. You look famished.”
“Oh, no, please don’t bother,” Andras said. In fact, the smell of toast had reminded him that he hadn’t eaten all day; but he worried that even the smallest meal in that house would require a lengthy ceremony, one whose rules were foreign to him. And he was in a hurry: His train left in three hours.
“Young men can always eat,” said the younger Mrs. Hász, calling the housemaid to her side. She gave a few instructions and sent the woman on her way.
The elder Mrs. Hász left her chair at the writing desk and beckoned Andras to sit beside her on one of the salmon-colored sofas. He sat down, worrying that his trousers would leave a mark on the silk; he would have needed a different grade of clothing altogether, it seemed to him, to pass an hour safely in that house. The elder Mrs. Hász folded her slim hands on her lap and asked Andras what he would study in Paris.
“Architecture,” Andras said.
“Indeed. So you’ll be a classmate of József?’s at the Beaux-Arts, then?”
“I’ll be at the École Spéciale,” Andras said. “Not the Beaux-Arts.”
The younger Mrs. Hász settled herself on the opposite sofa. “The École Spéciale? I haven’t heard József mention it.”
“It’s rather more of a trade school than the Beaux-Arts,” Andras said. “That’s what I understand, anyway. I’ll be there on a scholarship from the Izraelita Hitközség. It was a happy accident, actually.”
And Andras explained: The editor of Past and Future, the magazine where he worked, had submitted some of Andras’s cover designs for an exhibition in Paris—a show of work by young Central European artists. His covers had been selected and exhibited; a professor from the École Spéciale had seen the show and had made inquiries about Andras. The editor had told him that Andras wanted to become an architect, but that it was difficult for Jewish students to get into architecture school in Hungary: A defunct numerus clausus, which in the twenties had restricted the number of Jewish students to six percent, still haunted the admissions practices of Hungarian universities. The professor from the École Spéciale had written letters, had petitioned his admissions board to give Andras a place in the incoming class. The Budapest Jewish community association, the Izraelita Hitközség, had put up the money for tuition, room, and board. It had all happened in a matter of weeks, and at every moment it seemed as if it might fall through. But it hadn’t; he was going. His classes would begin six days from now.
“Ah,” said the younger Mrs. Hász. “How fortunate! And a scholarship, too!” But at the last words she lowered her eyes, and Andras experienced the return of a feeling from his school days in Debrecen: a sudden shame, as if he’d been stripped to his underclothes. A few times he’d spent weekend afternoons at the homes of boys who lived in town, whose fathers were barristers or bankers, who didn’t have to board with poor families—boys who slept alone in their beds at night and wore ironed shirts to school and ate lunch at home every day. Some of these boys’ mothers treated him with solicitous pity, others with polite distaste. In their presence he’d felt similarly naked. Now he forced himself to look at József?’s mother as he said, “Yes, it’s very lucky.”
“And where will you live in Paris?”
He rubbed his damp palms against his knees. “The Latin Quarter, I suppose.”
“But where will you stay when you arrive?”
“I imagine I’ll just ask someone where students take rooms.”
“Nonsense,” said the elder Mrs. Hász, covering his hand with her own. “You’ll go to József?’s, that’s what you’ll do.”
The younger Mrs. Hász gave a cough and smoothed her hair. “We shouldn’t make commitments for József,” she said. “He may not have room for a guest.”
“Oh, Elza, you’re a terrible snob,” said the elder Mrs. Hász. “Mr. Lévi is doing a service for József. Surely József can spare a sofa for him, at least for a few days. We’ll wire him this afternoon.”
“Here are the sandwiches,” said the younger, visibly relieved by the distraction.
The housemaid wheeled a tea cart into the room. In addition to the tea service there was a glass cake stand with a stack of sandwiches so pale they looked to be made of snow. A pair of scissorlike silver tongs lay beside the pedestal, as if to suggest that sandwiches like these were not m eant to be touched by human hands. The elder Mrs. Hász took up the tongs and piled sandwiches onto Andras’s plate, more than he would have dared to take for himself. When the younger Mrs. Hász herself picked up a sandwich without the aid of silverware or tongs, Andras made bold to eat one of his own. It consisted of dilled cream cheese on soft white bread from which the crusts had been cut. Paper-thin slices of yellow pepper provided the only indication that the sandwich had originated from within the borders of Hungary.
While the younger Mrs. Hász poured Andras a cup of tea, the elder went to the writing desk and withdrew a white card upon which she asked Andras to write his name and travel information. She would wire József, who would be waiting at the station in Paris. She offered him a glass pen with a gold nib so fine he was afraid to use it. He leaned over the low table and wrote the information in his blocky print, terrified that he would break the nib or drip ink onto the Persian rug. Instead he inked his fingers, a fact he apprehended only when he looked down at his final sandwich and saw that the bread was stained purple. He wondered how long it would be until Simon, whoever that was, appeared with the box for József. A sound of hammering came from far off down the hallway; he hoped it was the box being closed.
It seemed to please the elder Mrs. Hász to see that Andras had finished his sandwiches. She gave him her grief-etched smile. “This will be your first time in Paris, then.”
“Yes,” Andras said. “My first time out of the country.”
“Don’t let my grandson offend you,” she said. “He’s a sweet child once you get to know him.”
“József is a perfect gentleman,” said the younger Mrs. Hász, flushing to the roots of her close-set curls.
“It’s kind of you to wire him,” Andras said.
“Not at all,” said the elder Mrs. Hász. She wrote József?’s address on another card and gave it to Andras. A moment later, a man in butler’s livery entered the sitting room with an enormous wooden crate in his arms.
“Thank you, Simon,” said the younger Mrs. Hász. “You may leave it there.”
The man set the crate down on the rug and retreated. Andras glanced at the gold clock on the mantel. “Thank you for the sandwiches,” he said. “I’d better be off now.”
“Stay another moment, if you don’t mind,” said the elder Mrs. Hász. “I’d like to ask you to take one more thing.” She went to the writing desk and slid the sealed letter from beneath its paperweight.
“Excuse me, Mr. Lévi,” said the younger. She rose and crossed the room to meet her mother-in-law, and put a hand on her arm. “We’ve already discussed this.”
“I won’t repeat myself, then,” said the elder Mrs. Hász, lowering her voice. “Kindly remove your hand, Elza.”
The younger Mrs. Hász shook her head. “György would agree with me. It’s unwise.”
“My son is a good man, but he doesn’t always know what’s wise and what is not,” said the elder. She extricated her arm gently from the younger woman’s grasp, returned to the salmon-colored sofa, and handed the envelope to Andras. Written on its face was the name C. Morgenstern and an address in Paris.
“It’s a message for a family friend,” said the elder Mrs. Hász, her eyes steady on Andras’s. “Perhaps you’ll think me overcautious, but for certain matters I don’t trust the Hungarian post. Things can get lost, you know, or fall into the wrong hands.” She kept her gaze fixed upon him as she spoke, seeming to ask him not to question what she meant, nor what matters might be delicate enough to require this degree of caution. “If you please, I’d rather you not mention it to anyone. Particularly not to my grandson. Just buy a stamp and drop this into a mailbox once you get to Paris. You’ll be doing me a great favor.”
Andras put the letter into his breast pocket. “Easily done,” he said.
The younger Mrs. Hász stood rigid beside the writing desk, her cheeks bright beneath their patina of powder. One hand still rested on the stack of books, as though she might call the letter back across the room and have it there again. But there was nothing to be done, Andras saw; the elder Mrs. Hász had won, and the younger now had to proceed as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened. She composed her expression and smoothed her gray skirt, returning to the sofa where Andras sat.
“Well,” she said, and folded her hands. “It seems we’ve concluded our business. I hope my son will be a help to you in Paris.”
“I’m certain he will,” Andras said. “Is that the box you’d like me to take?”
“It is,” said the younger Mrs. Hász, and gestured him toward it.
The wooden crate was large enough to contain a pair of picnic hampers. When Andras lifted it, he felt a deep tug in his intestines. He took a few staggering steps toward the door.
“Dear me,” said the younger Mrs. Hász. “Can you manage?”
Andras ventured a mute nod.
“Oh, no. You mustn’t strain yourself.” She pressed a button in the wall and Simon reappeared a moment later. He took the box from Andras and strode out through the front door of the house. Andras followed, and the elder Mrs. Hász accompanied him to the driveway, where the long gray car was waiting. Apparently they meant to send him home in it. It was of English make, a Bentley. He wished Tibor were there to see it.
The elder Mrs. Hász put a hand on his sleeve. “Thank you for everything,” she said.
“It’s a pleasure,” Andras said, and bowed in farewell.
She pressed his arm and went inside; the door closed behind her without a sound. As the car pulled away, Andras found himself twisting backward to look at the house again. He searched the windows, unsure of what he expected to see. There was no movement, no curtain-flutter or glimpse of a face. He imagined the younger Mrs. Hász returning to the drawing room in wordless frustration, the elder retreating deeper behind that butter-colored façade, entering a room whose overstuffed furniture seemed to suffocate her, a room whose windows offered a comfortless view. He turned away and rested an arm on the box for József, and gave his Hársfa utca address for the last time.
Meet 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.
- Brooklyn, New York
- Date of Birth:
- June 12, 1973
- Place of Birth:
- Miami, Florida
- B.A., Cornell University, 1994; M.F.A., University of Iowa, 1996 Stanford University, Stegner Fellowship, 1999-2001
and post it to your social network
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews >
This novel takes place in Paris and Hungary between 1936 and the end of WW2. It is the story of two devoted Hungarian brothers, their families and friends, and the love of one of those brothers for an older woman. The story is full of suspense, grace, survival and sacrifice without the melodrama that often accompanies a novel with these themes. It is beautifully written and so well-researched that I had to keep reminding myself that it was fiction. The novel had a sepia-toned feel and was haunting but uplifting. I think it will make an excellent book club choice; there is much to be discussed. I loved it and will recommend it to everyone I know.
This novel is a masterpiece. The characters are challenged again and again by circumstances beyond their control, yet they rise to the challenges and endure. The reader can't help but wonder - what would I do in that situation? What gives them the strength to go on? What strengths could I draw on in my life? These are realistic portrayals of people you would want to know - the friends you know well whom you really admire for their personal qualities and measure yourself against. Yet the heroes in this book are very human and not beyond frustration in the foibles of life. This book has some of the same qualities as Dr. Zhivago. It is at heart a love story set in a time of war and a celebration of human endurance under inhumane circumstances. It has the same level of quality writing and insight as demonstrated in that Russian masterpiece. I suspect "The Invisible Bridge" will enter school reading lists as essential reading, as it should.
A scholarship to study architecture in Paris - a dream come true for a poor young Hungarian with a talent for drawing and an innovative vision. As you start reading The Invisible Bridge, Julie Orringer will lull you with her beautiful descriptions of Parisian streets, gardens, cafes.so that you will feel you are there. But too soon, she reveals that Andras is Jewish and Europe is becoming Hitler's - changing everything and the real tale begins. The story moves slowly carrying you through the lives of three young brothers - intelligent men, with strong family ties, who start out in pre-war Hungary with potential. Andras, the middle brother, is the fulcrum. He begins his studies in Paris, succeeds in creating designs admired by his professors, helps his older brother, Tibor, get sponsorship for medical studies in Italy, and mentors his younger brother, Matyas, a talented artist/performer. He meets his true love, Klara, a ballerina and a fugitive from Hungary, living in Paris. Shifting gears into wartime, Orringer seasons her lengthy descriptions with astute observations - ".it made [Andras] aware of his own smallness in the world, his insignificance in the face of what might come." Her detailed understanding of Jewish customs instills credibility, and Orringer uses an effective technique to keep you engaged: she gives you the outcome, then backtracks to how it got there. As she explains, her lengthy and precise clarifications of architectural and military procedures mirror Melville's summation of whaling - you want to get on with the action, but are afraid you might miss something if you skip through. And, besides, the explanations are fascinating. Be prepared to read slowly. The terrors of war take over, but art and family help Andras survive. The title is taken from an illustration he draws for a comic-relief newsletter while trying to live through the horror in the camps. More than the filth and humiliation of the conscripted Jewish work-camps, it's the uncertainty and terror of the unknown that creeps in. Each short leave at home gives him new worries - Will his wife be safe? Will his brothers survive? Will anyone survive? This is a book you will not be able to bear to read at times, and then you will not want it to end - a haunting revelation of bittersweet anomalies - beautifully written. Orringer's grandfather lived through this time, and she has used him as her initial resource, but her research into Hungarian Jews and Hungary during the war is authentic and commanding. http://ncbookbunch.wordpress.com
On my nook, I'm currently reading an amazing book called "The Invisible Bridge" by Julie Orringer. The problem is, I have a hard time putting it down, so it's on my bedside table, and I read it before going to bed each night, which actually has done wonders for helping to put me to sleep (can't say much for the staying asleep bit). It's a very fluid novel, save some of the parts that go into architectural mumbo jumbo that I just sort of breeze by. The focus of the novel is a Jewish gent from Budapest who heads to Paris for architectural school in pre-war times. He rallies around a group of Jewish fellows, falls for a mysterious woman with a scarred past, and eventually ends up back in Budapest (which is where I am now, and I still have a ton left to read, so I have no idea what's going to happen, so no worries about spoilers). The narrative and dialogue are brilliantly written, very period appropriate, and my only beef with the novel, as I said, is the random tangents on architectural stuff (also, sometimes the Jewishly peppered stuff seems forced). So, I know he's in architectural school and that the goings on at the Ecole d'Especial is very important, but the detail is a little obnoxious at times. I'm sort of mesmerized, however, with Orringer's attention to detail, and I'm really mystified as to where this novel is going, what with the war having started and me still having half the book left to read. The characters are so vivid, I feel like I'm walking the streets of Paris with them, eating at the same bars as them, and smelling the fresh bread they're purchasing. Pick this up, stat. (Note: I wrote this about 100 pages short of the end -- my sentiment stands: READ THIS STAT!)
The Invisible Bridge is great. I am not a big fan of Holocaust books. However, this book has something for everyone. It taught me much about France and Hungry's involvement in WWII. I want to visit France after reading this book. It will make you laugh and cry and the same time. Also, I learned a bit about architecture from the book. It shows readers that you must learn about both the good and the bad parts of your history. Also, it teaches that we must be tolerant of each other. There is also a lesson about redemption. I also loved this book because a friend of mine has a name that is close to one of the main characters names. My book club loved it. I highly recommend this book.
The character development takes quite awhile but is my no means boring, and quite necessary. It is imperative that we get to know the characters in order to feel what eventually happens to them. One of the best books ever.
Top 5 novels I've ever read. Just a wonderful book.
BEST BOOK I'VE READ ALL YEAR! This has got to be the best love story I've read in a long time. the love that Andras and Klara had for each other and their family was unbelieveable. The cruelty and human suffering of war was something we should never forget or repeat ever again. I could not put this book down, oh and the ending brought happy tears to my eyes. This is one book I will not soon forget. I am also looking for Julie Orringer's next book, loved her writing.
Enjoyed this book very much! Loved the characters and felt very much that I was involved in their lives. This book draws some very poignant conclusions about life, and human nature that make reading it very memorable. Its a love story, but if you look past that (if your not into them) , its a very good historical presentation of the time with more than the obvious message.
This is the kind of book that you want to read forever and when it's done, you feel like you lost your best friend. It is beautifully written with such feeling and description that I felt like I was watching a movie. What's so amazing is that your heart breaks because you know what happened during WW2 and yet you are spared the horrid details, but still felt and lived what the characters went through. You will NOT forget this book!
It's an excellent tale of life and times in Hungary before and during World War II. It's a great love story and shows the true passion of people trying to survive and carry on their life against all odds.
Who edited this book? Or should I say, failed to edit it? It is foiled by its redundancies, but offers an interesting story with important insights into the Hungarian Jewish experience during Hitler's rise and the second World War. The writer has moments of brilliance, passages that take her from the mundane to the poetic. It should have been a much better read, and could have been with a serious tightening of the narrative and elimination of unnecessary repetitiveness. But it does add much to the holocaust literature now available, and is worth reading.
I cared about the characters almost at once. The story rolled along, keeping my interest and luring me to continue turning the page.
This is an amazing book. Exceptionally well written and researched. The story will stay with you long after you finish the book. I am looking forward to more from this talented writer.
This was one of my favorite books ever. I love reading WWII novels, and this one tops all of the other ones I've read. I loved that it was so incredibly real. It started out having nothing to do with the war, and was mainly a story about a young guy finding his way in a new city and falling in love. Then the war began, and it turned into a completely different story. It went from super depressing to hopeful, and back to depressing about a million times. I liked that, because life can be that way sometimes, and reading a book about the war that is only dreadfully sad isn't as nice as a book with some hope and little happiness. I won't stop thinking about this book for a long time.
The Invisible Bridge is a beautifully written novel full of descriptive detail. The characters are very real and draw you in and keep you going even when the brutality and horror of the events make you want to turn away. However, there was, in some places, almost too much detail and some plot lines seemed somewhat drawn out and unnecessary. When I finally finished the book (over 600 pages on the Nook!), I felt like I had lived a lifetime and was physically exhausted.
This was more and less than I expected. The details and situations made me want to find out more about the circumstances of the war. Being of Hungarian descent, but not a speaker of the language, I could identify with some of the foods and customs, but think an outsider might find the excess information cumbersome. I had difficulty accepting the connection of the two major characters, but the action held my attention and compelled me to keep reading until the end.
I picked this book up on a whim and didn't expect much. I had never heard of it. I was so surprised by how well written, informative, and addictive it was. It's an epic story that spans years. I agree with others that this book is a masterpiece and one of the best novels I've read in a long time.
I haven't finished the book yet. It is more than 600 pages. It is an interesting story taking place in Hungary Pre World War2 and the start of the War. I am looking foward to the next 200 pagesand finding out what happens to the main characters.
I loved this book..it was well written and a wonderful, heartbreaking and eye opening story. I could not put it down.
Beautifully written, reminds me of Angela's Ashes: making you smile on one page, then feeling your eyes fill with tears a few pages later - best book i have read in a long time!
I enjoyed the love stories. However, I found most chapters to be redundant. The beginning to me drags on and on. But the history part was very good. Could have told the story in much less pages.
If nothing else it will make a person feel blessed for the day and age we live in... esp Americans.
tremendously informative about the world war 2. the author really did outstanding research....could hardly put this book down. look forward to reading more books by this author
I really liked this book for the story and insight into the plight of Hungarian Jews, which most of us know little about. The characters and story were a little too romantic and idealized for me, but the overall book was very compelling.