Vinod Peris's Reviews > The Invisible Bridge

The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer
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Aug 27, 12

Read in June, 2012

This is an epic tale of a Hungarian Jewish Family before and during the second World War. It starts out with the hopes and aspirations of three Hungarian brothers as they follow their dreams in different directions. Andras Levi is the middle one and most of the book revolves around his life and those around him. He dreams of being an architect and has the good-fortune of landing a scholarship in the Ecole Speciale d'Architecture in Paris. There are many surprises in his early days at school and Julie lets her imagination run wild in the many different challenges that Andras has to navigate during his sojourn in Paris. This part of the book made me reminisce about my student days, both in Kanpur and in Maryland. The simple lives we led and the joy of visiting a family that enjoyed the luxuries of a proper home. It reinforces my belief that the pleasure of living life is experiencing its ups and downs. If you aren't down and struggling then you will not be able to enjoy the sliver of good fortune that may come your way.

The initial challenges that Andras has to face are of two kinds: Finance and Romance. Both of them are described very poignantly and you will be sucked in by Andras and his Parisian world. However, there are much darker days ahead as all of Europe is plunged into World War II. This is one more book on top of what must be a very large pile of books that describe the atrocities that Jews suffered in Europe during the second world war. However, this is told from the point of view of Jews in Hungary. Just before WWII the Jews consisted of about 8% of the Hungarian population, but they were not allowed to serve in the army. Instead the males were required to do a labor service called Munkaszolgalat which is a mouthful to pronounce and as Julie describes a horror for all the male Hungarian Jews who were conscripted into service. The units were badly clothed and poorly fed and made to perform heavy duty construction duties. Most of them did not survive and you will find yourself reading with bated breath, dreading to see what misfortune the next page is going to bring on the Levi brothers and their friends and relatives.

While reading the second part of the book, the horrific conditions of the Munkaszolgalat convinced me that this could not have been made up by Julie and must have been real. I was curious to see if this was a true rendition of the labor service and whether it was based on the lives of Julie's relatives. A quick search on the internet, confirmed my suspicions and indeed the basis for Andras is Julie's great uncle Alfred Tibor (http://www.dispatch.com/content/stori...). Julie has admitted that the romantic portions are a figment of her imagination, but much of the rest is based on the experiences of her grand uncle. You can tell that Julie has a strong passion for the Hungarian Jewish identity as she describes in great detail, their simple lives, their cooking and religious observances. She very fondly describes events like passover replete with the making of matzo balls and gefilte fish. Not surprisingly all the bad guys are Gentiles.

While the book is almost 600 pages of very dense print, it is very well written and you will find yourself sucked into the many turns and twists that the Levi family encounters. The book is very moving and will leave a deep impression on you.
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