Book of the Week: THE INVISIBLE BRIDGE by Julie Orringer

A grand love story set against the backdrop of wartime Paris and Budapest.

The passion of a complicated and abiding love, the unbreakable bonds of family and the ravages of a war that threaten to destroy it all: these are the themes of Julie Orringer’s big, old-fashioned love story set against the backdrop of wartime Paris and Budapest.

This story opens in 1937 when Andras Lévi, a promising Hungarian-Jewish architecture student, boards a train to Paris from Budapest carrying a single suitcase and his dreams of a new life in Paris. In his possession is also a mysterious letter he has promised to deliver to someone called C. Morgenstern on the rue de Sévigné.

Thus begins Andras’ relationship with the letter’s recipient and his life as a student on the rue des Écoles. He discovers his love for his new city, his studies, and for Klara (C. or Claire) a woman with a dangerous secret in her past. But his life is soon disrupted when anti-Jewish laws go into effect, causing his scholarship to be revoked. This is, of course, only the beginning of his trials as World War II begins to sweep Europe.

After his second summer in Paris, Andras is forced to abandon his studies and, with his new wife, he returns to Hungary. Soon after he is conscripted into a labour unit and is forced to endure the hunger, physical exhaustion and other hardships of a Carpathian winter. His brothers are also called up — their lives similarly disrupted — and at the same time, an exposed secret from Klara’s past threatens to erode the family’s security even further.

The experiences of the Levi family give readers an intensely personal account of the daily horrors of the Holocaust and the terrible ways war exacts its cost on individual lives — this time in Hungary, where over half of the Jewish population was lost, despite the fact they were not transported to concentration camps until 1944. Along with his brothers and other family members, Andras’ everyday reality is the terrible uncertainly of their safety and eventually, their very lives.

It is a story that is, in many ways, difficult to read — yet at the same time, impossible to put down. Fans of Orringer’s previous work (Breathing Under Water) will not be disappointed by this masterfully wrought and emotionally haunting book.

Watch as Julie Orringer reads from The Invisible Bridge and answers questions on the book as well as her writing process.