I love Paris and try to learn as much as I can about the city. My summer visits to Paris also have increased my interest in World War II. In the U.S., reading about that time period, it all seems very distant and remote. But in Paris and in much of Europe, the war happened right there. It was my love of Paris and my interest in WWII that drew me to this book.
The summary I read of Julie Orringer's Invisible Bridge described the book as a love story between a young, Jewish Hungarian college student and an older ballerina in Paris, on the eve of war. I imagined it to be a passionate love story with a gorgeous, tragic Paris setting.
It is a love story, but not exactly what I expected. It's much more than a love story and not quite as, well, passionate as I expected it to be. I'm not even sure what I mean by that, I just know I was expecting a different book than what this actually was. That doesn't mean I didn't like the book, I liked it very much. The story of the student, Andras, meeting the ballerina, Klara, in Paris is simply the beginning of a much broader story. Also, the fact that she's a few years older than him doesn't seem to be that big of a deal. She does have a teenage daughter, that she had when she was only a teenager, which makes things a bit complicated.
But this story isn't just about their relationship, it's more about the ways some horrible events over which they had no control derailed their lives and their plans. And it isn't just about these two people and how they were effected, but rather how everyone in their families, in their neighborhoods and in their country was effected.
This book is so very well written, once I got started, I didn't want to put it down, but at the same time, I was so horrified by what was happening that I was hesitant to continue, knowing things would only get worse. The author manages to transport the reader into a time and place in history, and makes it feel as if we are living in that time period. While I was reading this book, I couldn't stop thinking about it when I was away from the book and at night I would have dreams about the book.
The characters have to leave Paris, and return to Budapest where much of the story takes place. I liked the scenes in Paris best, because I could visualize the areas mentioned. I've never been to Budapest. Once they reach Budapest though, Andras is sent to a work camp and everything is downhill from there. I suppose that's when I had to accept that this wasn't going to be some steamy, Parisian love story of two people escaping the Nazis.
My only issue with the book is that I found I did not like Klara. There was something so selfish about her. She was a beautiful woman who was used to men taking care of her. Even with this younger man, she seemed to expect the same from him -- despite her claims that she could take care of herself. And yes, she raised a daughter on her own, but she had a wealthy, married man helping her out financially. Only when he moved on and decided to take of his own wife that she became involved with Andras. Before him, her father was risking everything for her, and afterward, it was her brother having to save her. Even after they'd lost almost everything, with no hope in sight, her husband in a work camp, her entire family living in a small apartment, she keeps getting pregnant. Pretty sure that even then, there were precautions that could be taken until they were in a more stable situation.
Throughout the book, I never warmed to that character, and I thought I would after she revealed her horrible secret, but I didn't. I felt bad for her, but even then, it seemed like she made a decision that she had to have known would have a bad result. (Not going to give it away because it's a fairly big revelation in the book.)
Despite not really liking Klara though, I really did like the book and would readily recommend it to anyone interested in that time period, or anyone simply wanting a big, engrossing book to get lost in for a few days.
It is tragic because how could it not be in that place and time. It's truly horrifying to realize that those things happened in this world. It's even more horrifying to know that others sat by and did nothing as it happened. Maybe it was so horrible they couldn't believe it was really happening, but I don't know. Seems like a lot of people readily turned away from the horror and thought they would be fine because it didn't directly affect them. They thought it was just a small group of crazies, and then that small group took over their countries and everyone suffered. There's a scene where the "illegal immigrants" are shot because they can't find their papers quickly enough and I couldn't help but think about how many people in this country would be just fine with that. I can't help but think about our own country and how we allow the zealots to spout their craziness, their hatred for anyone who has a different religion or a darker shade of skin. We have people in Arizona who think it's okay to harass anyone with dark skin, we have crazies blabbing on and on about how we need to blur the lines between church and state and allow their particular brand of religion into law. Anyone who worships differently, or not at all is considered evil. Most of all though, when I read a book like this, I worry that we've learned nothing from history.
finished reading around 3 a.m. Sept., 12, 2010