|The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer is the tale of three Hungarian-Jewish brothers, each with their own unique artistic talents, whose dreams were derailed as Hitler ravaged through Europe.
Paris, 1937. Andras Lévi, a Hungarian-Jewish architecture student, arrives from Budapest with a scholarship, a single suitcase, and a mysterious letter he has promised to deliver to C. Morgenstern on the rue de Sévigné. As he falls into a complicated relationship with the letter’s recipient, he becomes privy to a secret history that will alter the course of his own life. Meanwhile, as his elder brother takes up medical studies in Modena and their younger brother leaves school for the stage, Europe’s unfolding tragedy sends each of their lives into terrifying uncertainty. At the end of Andras’s second summer in Paris, all of Europe erupts in a cataclysm of war.
From the small Hungarian town of Konyár to the grand opera houses of Budapest and Paris, from the lonely chill of Andras’s room on the rue des Écoles to the deep and enduring connection he discovers on the rue de Sévigné, from the despair of Carpathian winter to an unimaginable life in forced labor camps and beyond, The Invisible Bridge tells the story of a love tested by disaster, of brothers whose bonds cannot be broken, of a family shattered and remade in history’s darkest hour, and of the dangerous power of art in a time of war.
Book Club Ideas
The decorations focused on the good times in prewar Paris – a ballerina for Klara and architecture plans for Andras. The backdrop of many of the pictures is a canvas room divider featuring a French street cafe scene.
This ballerina is my favorite thing I have ever owned so I had to include another picture of it. It sits on a table across from my desk so I look at it everyday. I bought it at the New Orleans Jazz Fest in 1994, and unfortunately I do not remember the name of the artist and I can’t read his signature on the bottom. I do remember he had dreadlocks if that rings a bell for anyone.
Music for a book club party for The Invisible Bridge can include:
- “Brin de Muguet” (page 90) which Andras hummed as he taught Madame Morgenstern to waltz.
- At a party in Paris, the guests dance to the new American song “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” (page 241)
Below is a collection of music from Hungary and WWII:
Book Club Menu
Before the war, Andras and his friends at École Spéciale d’Architecture in Paris liked to drink whiskey and soda, the drink of American movie stars (page 59). In Hungary, they drank slivovitz, or plum brandy (page 373).
Andras learned to cook by watching his mother and wowed his new found love. “He could make palacsinta, thin egg pancakes, with chocolate or jam or apple filling; he could make Paprikás Burgonya and Spaetzle and Red Cabbage with Caraway Seeds” (page 117). Hungarian Farmer’s Bread would taste great with this meal.
The tablecloths are laid out like the Hungarian flag. I included one pink carnation (page 592) in honor of the tap dancing youngest brother, Mátyás. The map in the background marks Paris, Budapest and the dreaded Ukraine as well as Palestine where they hoped to be able to live out their dreams.
I made an assemble your own Palacsinta bar, which included bowls of walnuts, chocolate chips, fresh fruit, Nutella, chocolate syrup and strawberry and apricot jam. Jam plays an important role in The Invisible Bridge– the eldest brother Tibor carried jam he found at a farmhouse in the palm of his had for 20 kilometers (page 563) in order to feed Andras.
Book Club Resources
Ratings at the time this post was published
|Goodreads: 4.2 stars (33,542 ratings)|
|Amazon: 4.5 stars (777 ratings)|
|LibraryThing: 4.2 stars (115 ratings)|
|My Rating: 5 stars|
- “Truly breathtaking . . . gloriously rendered . . . a sensual feast. . . . I didn’t want it to end.”
—Debra Spark, San Francisco Chronicle
- “Orringer avoids bathos and has a gift for re-creating distant times and places: a Paris suffused with the scent of paprikas and the sounds of American jazz, the comraderies and cruelties of the work camps. The ticking clock of history keeps it urgent and moving forward, and the result is, against all odds, a Holocaust page-turner. Buy it.”—New York magazine
- “The book covers the Hungarian experience of the war and manages to evoke the horror of the Holocaust but as a spectre that always remains just offstage; part of the novel’s power lies in the fact that we as readers know what could happen to these people, what could waiting just around the corner, and we wonder if and when they will get there or if by some miracle they’ll escape.” — Boston Bibliophile
Book Club Discussion
- The difference in the classes is one area of discussion. The youngest of the three brothers says, in response to Klara’s well-to-do family having an opera box “At least they still have the opera box. Music can be such a comfort when other people are dying” (page 377).
- Control over one’s destiny is another theme. Andras said that he hoped that Klara would understand why he had to write the papers. It “concerned the difference between feeling at the mercy of one’s fate and, to some small degree, the master of it” (page 439).
- The roles of coincidence and chance. A review in the LA Times stated “Anyone who ever has spent time in conversation with Holocaust survivors or read their firsthand account of those years will recognize, too, how precisely Orringer has captured the role coincidence and chance played in dividing those who lived from those who were murdered.” Andras states “A hundred times it might have been the end” (page 566).
Purchase The Invisible Bridge at your favorite bookseller
About the Author
Julie Orringer is the author of the award-winning short-story collection How to Breathe Underwater, which was a New York Times Notable Book. She is the winner of The Paris Review’s Discovery Prize and the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, Stanford University, and the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library. She lives in Brooklyn, where she is researching a new novel.
Visit the website of Julie Orringer