The Invisible Bridge begins in 1937 and follows the fortunes of three Hungarian Jewish brothers – Andras, Tibor and Matyas Levi – as they try to survive in a Europe torn apart by World War II. At the beginning of the book, Andras is preparing to leave Budapest and go to Paris to study architecture. Soon after his arrival in France, Andras meets Klara Morgenstern, a woman nine years older than himself, a ballet teacher with a teenage daughter. Andras and Klara fall in love, but Klara has secrets in her past – secrets that she would prefer not to share with Andras.
Andras and Klara’s story is played out against a backdrop of wartime Paris, Budapest, Ukraine and parts of the Hungarian countryside. The complex relationship between Andras and Klara is always at the heart of the novel but to dismiss this book as just another romance is unfair because it’s so much more than that.
Despite reading a lot of novels set during World War II, this is the first one I’ve read that is told from a Hungarian perspective. Hungary was allied with Germany which meant this story approached things from a slightly different angle than most other books I’ve read about the war and as I knew almost nothing about the role Hungary played, I was able to learn a lot from this book. And of course, because Andras and his family are Jews the novel is very much from a Jewish viewpoint. We see how it grew increasingly dangerous to be a Jew living in wartime Europe and how the Levi family became desperate to escape to safety. And when eventually Hungary finds itself under German occupation, we see that the Hungarian Jews fared no better than Jews elsewhere in Europe.
I enjoyed this book but it wasn’t perfect. There were times when I thought the balance between the romance storyline and the war aspect wasn’t quite right. And some of the characters needed more depth. I really liked Andras at first as he was a character who was easy to like and sympathise with, but as the story went on I started to find him a little bit too perfect and after spending more than 600 pages with him I wished he’d had a few flaws just to make him more interesting. I also think it would have been a nice touch if part of the book had been written from another character’s point of view. Not really a criticism of the book – I just think it would have added another dimension to the story and with the book being so epic in scope, the opportunity was there to do this.
The biggest problem I had with the book was the length! I’m usually quite happy to immerse myself in a long book but unlike some stories which do take a long time to tell, I thought this one could easily have been a lot shorter. My attention started to wander somewhere in the middle of the book when a lot of time was spent describing Andras’s life in the forced labour service (Jews were no longer allowed to serve in the actual Hungarian army but instead were expected to do jobs such as felling trees and clearing minefields) but things did pick up again over the last hundred pages.
In fact, the final section of the book, with its descriptions of life in Budapest towards the end of the war is so compelling and filled with so much tension, it made it worth sticking with the book through the less interesting chapters in the middle. And of course, I was genuinely worried for some of the characters so I had to keep reading to make sure they survived to the end of the book! I thought Orringer did a good job of keeping us in suspense wondering who would live or die and despite the few minor negative points I’ve mentioned above, I loved The Invisible Bridge.