When I picked up The Invisible Bridge, my understanding was that it involved love, Paris, architecture, and many other reader bon bons. I knew that war was involved, but was under the impression that it was used more as backdrop than as the premise of the story. That said, I usually steer clear of books addressing the Holocaust in any direct way. For me, to read of the devastation and incalculable loss is so profoundly numbing that I can’t move far enough past the actual historic events to meet the novel’s characters. So, it was to my great surprise that Julie Orringer carried me through my prior resistance on the back of her debut novel ‘The Invisible Bridge.’
While reading the book, I wasn’t sure if it was one that I could recommend. Tipping the scales at about 600 pages, ‘Bridge’ is definitely an an emotional and timely investment. As fluffy summer reads and the latest paperbacks beckon, a hard-covered doorstopper doesn’t hold much appeal. However, the more time that passes since I’ve finished the book, the more enamored I have become.
Julie Orringer brings an emotional beauty to the stark barbarism of war-torn Europe and creates a deep, passionate empathy through her strong prose and characters. Crafting heartfelt ruminations like that of Orringer’s main character Andras, Ms. Orringer envelops the reader into the family dynamic while providing an intimate perspective and an invested urgency to survive:
“One and a half million Jewish men and women and children: How was anyone to understand a number like that? Andras knew it took three thousand to fill the seats of the Dohany Street Synagogue. To accommodate a million and a half, one would have had to replicate that building, its arches and domes, its Moorish interior, its balcony, its dark wooden pews and gilded ark, five hundred times. And then to envision each of those five hundred synagogues filled to capacity, to envision each man and woman and child inside as a unique and irreplaceable human being… each of them with desires and fears, a mother and a father, a birthplace, a bed, a first love, a web of memories, a cache of secrets, a skin, a heart, an infinitely complicated brain – to imagine them that way, and then to imagine them dead, extinguished for all time – how could anyone begin to grasp it?”
Orringer has a penetrating commitment to dialogue that fortunately overrides the high rate of coincidence in the story. While some encounters and reunions are a bit of a stretch, they are redeemed and quickly resolved by Orringer’s swift ability to engage the reader’s emotions over any tendency to criticize. In essence, the story wins out every time.
FYI: Julie Orringer was a Helen Herzog Zell Visiting Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Michigan
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-Post by Megan Shaffer