Reading “The Invisible Bridge” on the train to Bratislava, Slovakia
The Book: The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer
*Will break this review up by spoilers and no spoilers*
Starting off with some spoiler-free thoughts, this was a heavy book. I finished it awhile ago, but I needed to sit with it for some time—especially after everything that has been going on in Ukraine, as the book covers WWII and its beginnings.
The Invisible Bridge is a long book, around 630 pages. And the quote that appears on the front is definitely true: “You don’t so much read it as live it.”
I didn’t know much about the book going in. I knew I wanted to read something about Budapest since that’s where I’m currently staying. I don’t normally do a lot of research into books before I pick them—all it takes to convince me is a favorable review and an interesting 1-2 sentence plot summary. So all I knew when I started reading this book was that it revolved around architect student Andras Lévi, it featured a complicated romantic relationship and it took place around the same time as WWII.
I was hooked right away. I loved Andras and wanted to see him succeed. As a foreigner in a new place, surrounded by those who didn’t speak his language, I could relate right away to his feelings of isolation and fear. I was invested in the complex love story with Klara—even more-so when they took a vacation to Nice. It was a beautiful story, and I was not ready for the turn it took.
We know that Andras and his family, and his friend group at university, are Jewish. We’re reminded this throughout the first half as his scholarship is stripped away, as his friends experience antisemitism from their peers, as news of Hitler’s continued terror spreads.
Eventually, Andras learns he cannot renew his visa and is forced to return to Hungary. He never returns to Paris.
The next sequence of events are brutal, as Andras and his brothers are shipped off to labor camps. I don’t want to get into the actual ending of the book or what goes on here, but it’s really impactful prose. I was finishing the book in a coffee shop down the street, and I had to stop reading because I found myself silenty sobbing at the table.
I think Julie Orringer is an amazing writer, and was pretty shocked to come across some more negative reviews of her writing style. It is a bit wordy at times, but 95% of that time it’s making for beautiful imagery. I plan to read more of her work, as The Invisible Bridge was an unforgettable read. It’s an amazing piece of historical fiction, and it was even more interesting to learn that the story had been inspired by her own family and relatives.
- “And what if I fail?” “Ah! Then you’ll have a story to tell.”
- And Andras turned such a brilliant and grateful smile upon him that Novak felt a fleeting shock of fear. Such trust. Such hope. What the world would do to a boy like Andras Lévi, Novak didn’t want to know.
- “Nothing’s happened,” he said, sitting down beside her. “I’ve just been thinking about what’s to happen after.” “Oh, Andras,” she said, and smiled drowsily. “Not that. That’s my least favorite subject at the moment.”
- “There’s no saving us. Eventually we’ll destroy ourselves. But in the meantime we’ve got to have shelter, so the architect’s work goes on.”
- One of the central truths of his life: that in any moment of happiness there was a reminder of bitterness or tragedy, like the ten plague drops spilled from the Passover cup, or the taste of wormwood in absinthe that no amount of sugar could disguise.
- Strange, Andras thought, that war could lead you involuntarily to forgive a person who didn’t deserve forgiveness, just as it might make you kill a man you didn’t hate.
- Once again, he thought, he had drawn a plan for an imaginary house, one in a long line of imaginary houses he had built since they’d been together; in his mind he could page through a deep stack of them, those ghostly blueprints of a life they had not yet lived and might never live.
The next quotes contain spoilers
- Andras, coming home one afternoon from the park with Tamás, stopped short on the sidewalk across from their neighborhood bakery. In the window was a sign almost identical to the one he’d seen at the bakery in Stuttgart seven years earlier. But this sign was written in Hungarian, his own language, and this was his own street, the street where he lived with his wife and son.
- In the end, what astonished him most was not the vastness of it all—that was impossible to take in, the hundreds of thousands of dead from Hungary alone, and the millions from all over Europe—but the excruciating smallness, the pinpoint upon which every life was balanced. The scale might be tipped by the tiniest of things: the lice that carried typhus, the few thimblefuls of water that remained in a canteen, the dust of breadcrumbs in a pocket.
The Place: Bratislava, Slovakia during January
I took a short day trip to Bratislava to meet up with my friend Nishelle from Vienna. It was a three-hour train ride each way, which meant I was able to get through most of my book. I also had a carriage to myself and it was a really pretty ride through all the snowfall from the night before.
We met in a cute coffee shop for brunch, the savory pancakes were delicious. Bratislava is a pretty small, quaint town, so we spent most of the day just walking around through the square, across the bridge, by the water.
There was a huge bookstore we stopped in, it’s always interesting seeing popular titles in different languages and the different imagery used for their covers. We had the most amazing local food for lunch and I’ve discovered that sheep cheese is by far the best cheese out there.