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Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer, 2010, * * * * *

Orringer's stunning first novel far exceeds the expectations generated by her much-lauded debut collection, How to Breath Underwater. In this WWII saga, Orringer illuminates the life of Andras Levi, a Hungarian Jew of meager means whose world is upended by a scholarship to the Ecole Speciale d'Architecture in Paris. There, he makes an unlikely liaison with ballet teacher Claire Morgenstern (ne Klara Hasz), a woman nine years his senior whose past links her to a wealthy Hungarian family.  Against the backdrop of grueling school assignments, work at a theater, budding romance, and the developing kinship between Andras and his fellow Jewish students, Orringer ingeniously depicts the insidious reach of the growing tide of anti-Semitism that eventually lands him back in Hungary and into forced labor camps and beyond, shedding light on how Hungary treated its Jewish citizens.  Throughout the hardships and injustices, Andras's love for Klara acts as a beacon through the unimaginable devastation and the dark hours of hunger, thirst, and deprivation . 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." As Michael Chabon, author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay stated on the back cover, “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 has a gift for re-creating distant times and places from a Paris suffused with the scents of  food and sounds of American jazz, to the camraderies and cruelties of the Hungarian work camps. The ticking clock of history keeps the story urgent and moving forward, and the result is, against all odds, a Holocaust page-turner. I could not put it down.

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