Then We Came to the End, by Joshua Ferris; Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger), this book is a sprawling saga of World War II in Hungary, with a cast of thousands, a huge variety of locations, war, deprivation, joy, anxiety, relief, love, hate, birth, death, and not a shred of self-pity. I loved it!
I didn’t know much about Hungary in the war and a lot of the information was new to me, and I suspect it will be new to most readers. It’s the story of Andras Levi, a Hungarian architecture student, and it begins in the late 1930’s as he moves to Paris to take up a scholarship place at architecture school. It follows Andras, his brothers, his parents, his eventual wife, her family, and their children throughout the war, from Paris, back to Budapest, through stints in the Hungarian Labor Service, throughout the siege of Budapest, to the aftermath of the war.
This book is in the tradition of the great war novels that are also great family sagas: I’m thinking now of Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell, and also of Herman Wouk’s The Winds of War, and War and Remembrance. Like Wouk and Mitchell, Orringer skillfully integrates fact and fiction, including both real and fictional characters. Meticulously researched, it’s as much about epic battles as it is about how people hang on to their humanity during the most trying situations imaginable. Also like those three books I mention, The Invisible Bridge is not high literary art; it’s got its share of purple prose and overwrought descriptions. Yet I think it too will endure as a classic.
My sincere apologies to loyal blog readers for such infrequent posts: The Invisible Bridge is long (over 700 pages), and I read it during an especially busy time at work and at home. In this post I complained that the Kindle version provided no maps, but I was mistaken. I discovered the map after I was done reading; had I better understood the workings of the Kindle I would have found it earlier. It even shows the location of Carpathian Ruthenia (which, it turns out, is in Ukraine).
(Book 10, 2011)