You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Invisible Bridge

Hm, it's been a while since I've posted. I've been reading slowly and gotten a bit behind, so let me try to catch up.

The Invisible Bridge is an historical novel by Julie Orringer that takes place before and during World War II in France and Hungary. Andras Levi is a Hungarian Jew who gets a scholarship to an architecture school in Paris in 1937. After enduring a train ride to Paris and managing to find lodging, he discovers that his scholarship has been lost. However thanks to a benefactor he secures funding and soon acquires a job at a local theater. Between dealing with his studies, his work, his friends, and anti-Semitic colleagues, he meets a woman over ten years older than him and falls in love with her. Klara is also from Hungary but is in hiding in France due to a mysterious history.

The first half of the book is the romance between Andras and Klara as they fall in love and deal with issues typical for young lovers. Andras must deal with jealousy and Klara must be able to open up to Andras after suffering loss in her past. Things are not helped by Klara teenage daughter, who becomes involved with a young American in Andras' group of friends.

The story takes a darker turn when Andras learns that as a Jew he cannot renew his visa in France and must return to Hungary where Nazi influence is growing. Klara insists on returning with him even though she would be in danger from the authorities. Andras' brother Tibor also returns from Italy with his young wife. They are dismayed to learn that not only can they not renew their visas, but they are conscripted into the military labor service, where Jews were forced to work since they were not trusted to carry firearms. Andras and Tibor suffer at the hands of cruel officers, facing starvation and cold. Yet during their suffering they take comfort from each other and their fellow conscripts. Andras and a friend from school create an underground newspaper for their unit. But when they go too far they are forced to eat the newspaper and end up in the hospital. Later, Andras watches as his friend is murdered for trying to sneak to a nearby village to trade for food.

In many ways, the war distills human nature into extremes. The harsh circumstances brings out the best and worst in the people the characters face. A cruel guard tortures Andras; a kindly doctor helps him recuperate. Some men are forced to work as mine sweepers; Andras lucks into a supervisor who wants to use his skills to help as a surveyor. But when you think that Andras has suffered terribly, he learns that a friend from Paris has suffered even worse at the hands of the Nazis. Yet this friend received great luck and kindness as was able to help Andras and his family. There are many times when they all come very close to being killed but nearly always manage to survive, yet having witnessed the torture or death of their friends and family.

The war shifts the relationships between the characters as their fortune changes. Klara's past comes back to haunt her in Budapest, and there is a feeling that fate is an unavoidable force. Her nephew Jozsef becomes jealous that his parents must make sacrifices for her. Jozsef eventually must join the labor service when bribes can no longer keep him out, and he and Andras form an uneasy alliance. The privileged Jozsef gets little sympathy from the others, and even though Andras feels a familial duty to him Andras also starts to resent his whining and self-importance.

I enjoyed reading this book. The characters grow and find an inner strength as they suffer uncertainty and a growing oppression. Andras has flashes of jealousy but discovers that his love for Klara is more important than her past. He and his family prove to be resourceful. The high and lows of the war are extremes: the joys of having a child are switched to the fear of its survival. The loss of loved ones is converted to the joy of an unexpected reunion. The emotions of the characters are put through the wringer, and we go through it with them. A-

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