Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer

What a refreshing change this book is from the contemporary fiction I’ve been reading recently. Instead of a book about self-absorbed whiny people where hardly anything happens (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)


Amused said...

I loved this book as well and agree with you, it has a totally different feeling than most contemporary fiction.

Anna said...

I love war novels that are also family sagas, so this is going on my to-read list. I'll link to your review on War Through the Generations.

Shelley said...

No need to apologize! Your post was welcomed, and since my work is also historical fiction, I was very happy to see this (at least slightly) less self-absorbed genre given a pat on the back.

Sarah Laurence said...

Terrific review! I’m so glad to see this on your blog. A friend recommended this as a perfect book to read on my Kindle while visiting Europe as it is long and fabulous, but I couldn’t remember the title. I’m glad to hear maps are included. I’ll download it now.

I have just penned 3 illustrations for my WIP and I’m wondering how they would look on a Kindle’s small screen. Then again they might be dropped since upper YA is not usually illustrated. I wonder how ebooks will change the look of books because iPads would encourage the use of colorful illustrations or photos. Also the length of books might change. I’m usually reluctant to buy books that don’t fit in my handbag, but the Kindle changes all that. Still, I prefer the feel of a real book.

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