Monday, May 3, 2010

The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer

Sometimes I wonder why I am drawn to holocaust/WWII books. They crush me. I stay up reading late, tears rolling down my cheeks, and have trouble falling asleep because I’m so sad. The Invisible Bridge that kind of book. I was drawn to it because of the author (regardless of the fact that I had not read her previous work of short stories, she was a name I recognized). I found the ARC on the staff shelf and thought I would like it. And I did, as much as a person can like something that is incredibly sad and heartbreaking.

The book begins in 1937, three brothers are headed in different directions. Andras, to Paris to study Architecture. Tibor, to Italy to become a medical doctor. And Mátyás, still at school in Hungary and a less serious student than his brothers. Andras, a scholarship recipient is practically penniless and alone in Paris. His story is lovely at first, yes he misses his family. But Paris! School! Love! Everything a young man could dream of. Of course Germany and the Nazi party overshadow some of this. Anti-Semitism becomes more visible, Andras and his friends suffer from this while at school. Then, Germany starts circling closer and closer as we knew it would. Andras is deported to Hungary.

The situation for Jews in Hungary was different than in most of Europe. Discrimination existed, but Jews were allowed many of the same human rights as the rest of the citizenry. They could move unmolested, they could own shops, they could work, they were not imprisoned in ghettos or camps. This is not to say things were rosy in Hungary, but at the time, it was better than the Jews in other parts of Europe were faring, especially when one considers that Hungary was an ally of Germany.

Andras and his brothers are conscripted into the Labor Service, the support workers for the Hungarian Army. The work was non-voluntary and their work terms could be changed at any time. Their treatment varied widely and was almost entirely dependent on the officer in charge of the camp. I should state that they are treated badly at best, working on starvation rations, with inadequate shelter and clothing. But there are also people in the Hungarian army who are disgusted by the ill-treatment of the Jewish workers. They do their best to help. Despite this, by 1944 Hungary was invaded by Germany and the Jewish citizens were quickly stripped of their human rights, rounded up , ghettoized, and then shipped en mass to camps such as Auschwitz.

If I had to pick one word to describe this book I think it would be epic. It is an epic journey of survival. Not everyone makes it to the end of the book, which is what one expects, although that doesn’t make it any less horrifying. What makes this story even more moving, at least for me, is that the author based this story on her family’s history. Andras is based on her grandfather. And while I am well aware of what people experienced in general, it is powerful to read a fictionalized account of true events knowing that what he and his family went through in the novel was based on what they experienced in real life.

Highly recommended.

Book Source = ARC snagged from Staff area

1 comment:

joanna said...

Hey! It's read an adult book week at Oops.