The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer has just been translated into Norwegian by Gyldendal Norsk Forlag. I recently read the book, and although I was a bit sceptical at first (it was very long, and names of places and people were Hungarian or French mostly), I am thrilled I gave it a chance. The Invisible Bridge is a stunning novel that drew me in completely and still hasn't let go.
This is the story of Andras Levi, the Hungarian Jew who goes to Paris at the end of the 1930s to study architecture. He falls in love with a beautiful ballet instructor, who left Hungary years before under mysterious circumstances. Andras' life in Paris is full of art, theatre, and the daily struggle to make ends meet, as well as the growing hostility towards Jews and the inevitability of the coming war.
As the war breaks out in Europe, Andras and Klara are torn from their friends in Paris, and forced to go back to Budapest. The borders close between the countries, and it becomes impossible for Andras to get a new visa to continue his precious studies. As allies to nazi Germany, Hungary forces its people to participate in the war efforts. Along with other Jews, Andras has to abandon a desolate Klara behind to serve his time in the work camps. As time passes in the camps, it becomes increasingly clear to Andras that the Jews are meant to die in these camps.
Orringer has really written a grand novel. It braces so many things, from the everyday life of Andras in Paris of architectural solutions, a personal life filled with longings and love and theatrical intrigues, to the horrors and deprivations of war, and the small sparks of hope that makes you go on. What strikes me is that she really contrasts what happens before and during the war. Andras lives such a full life, a life that the reader believes in. From his everyday struggles of finding work, to his agony on behalf of his brother who wants to study medicine, to finally lying huddled in a bomb shelter, starved and at the brink of death.
I think this novel is really important in the tradition of remembering, and as a warning. Reading it, I could not help but notice that there are a lot of similarities between the animosity towards Jews before WW2, and how Muslims are viewed today. And taking into account recent events in Norway, it is even more important to check ones own attitudes towards the "Other". The Invisible Bridge reminds us that all people are worth the same, and that there really is no difference between us. We must stand together and help each other.
I was deeply moved by this novel. Orringer really hit a nerve with her thoroughly researched book, and I think she has done a tremendous job. This book should be read by everyone everywhere. Read. Enjoyed. Wept to. Laughed with.
As a closing note, I want to add that I think the Norwegian cover is just stunning. Great job Gyldendal! And the translation is excellent.