Monday, July 18, 2011

Love, Frank

The Invisible Bridge

I finished reading The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer last week. I won't warn you of any spoilers because history itself is a spoiler, isn't it? The book begins in 1937 and follows Andras Lévi, a Hungarian Jew just beginning his studies in architecture in Paris. That pretty much tells you where this 750-page book is going, doesn't it? Perhaps I'll spoil it a little by telling you that young Andras doesn't escape and emigrate safely to America in the first few pages.

Orringer takes us instead on a roller coaster of emotion as Andras's early years are filled with excitement, new experiences and passionate love. There are problems, of course - jealousies, some violence, little or no money - but those problems are made relatively small by what will come later, by what history tells us happens later. The uncertainty of youth, in hindsight, is more exciting than problematic.

The Invisible Bridge is a work of fiction, but there is much truth to be found in it. Not just the historical accuracies, but the truth that is found in all fiction - the love, the loss, the heartbreak and unbearable happiness and sadness that can often be found upon the very same page. Human emotion is as much a part of fact as any name, date or location. It's something that we all have within us and can identify with without regard to color, creed or station. The line between fact and fiction is a narrow one, as thin as a heart's blood vessel or brain's nerve ending at times; it is often blurred, as well it should be, despite what The Oprah demands from her stable of writers.

Through the course of her novel, Orringer gives us the good, the light at the end of the tunnel and then, just as quickly, blacks out that light. She heaps sorrow upon us, sinks us into a blackness from which there must be no exit, and then she lights a torch to show us the way out. Just as Andras exalts in the neat, straight lines of a new building's design, Orringer constructs a family through marriages, births and friendships that are stronger than reinforced steel, and then razes it through the atrocities of our past and the barbaric aspirations of a few lunatic madmen.

I read much of this book on a Florida beach while on vacation, and that setting made the story all the more unbearable at times. To read of work camps and death - though in the guise of fiction, there is no denying the truth here - while debating whether to have my next cocktail at the water line or up on the deck of our beach house seemed ludicrous. You should read this book, but be deliberate in where and when you read it because there is no telling when the rawness of the story and the immediacy of its emotion may seize you.