Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Invisible Bridge


In the world of English language historical novels there are 3 time periods that get the most play: Ancient Rome, Tudor England and WWII. Why? I'm not sure. There were big changes in those eras and even bigger villains but you can say that for Renaissance Italy and the French Revolution as well. My personal theory is that most people have at least a vague knowledge of those times from all the films made about those periods (Not to mention that WWII is recent history with hundreds of thousands of people who lived it still living!) and that makes reading about them more accessible than say Feudal Russia. Therefore that's what they buy and what they buy determines what gets published next and so on and so on.

It's a brave author that picks one of the Big Three as the setting of their novel because that built in familiarity is a double edged sword. The author can count on the reader bringing a certain amount of understanding and empathy to their book but the reader also brings a show-me-something-I-haven't-seen-before attitude. Amazingly enough author Julie Orringer manages to accomplish that literary miracle in her sensational novel The Invisible Bridge.

Three Hungarian, Jewish brothers are all taking their first steps in their adult lives. The eldest, Tibor, to medical school, the middle brother (our hero) Andras to Paris on a scholarship and baby brother drops out of school to pursue the stage. Their freedom and excitement is short lived. This is Europe in 1937. Horrific historical events that the brothers will need to survive to keep their family intact are just around the corner. Within two years the brothers will be even more scattered and very familiar with the worst the twentieth century has on the menu.

What sets Invisible apart from other World War II sagas is Orringer's focus on the details of everyday life. Here is where the payoff for the jaded war story reader is found. Orringer writes with singular attention about the daily lives of her characters. She never loses the epic sweep that you want in a novel about lives tossed about by war and evil but the focus is on the helplessness and day to day struggles and successes of her characters. Invisible is an intimate chronicle of a family trapped in terrible times determined to stay a family.

I was impressed by The Invisible Bridge. The story isn't new but Orringer's writing is fresh and beautiful. This novel demands your interest and consideration and in return gives you a powerful reading experience.


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