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The Invisible Bridge

From Paris to Hungary, this epic novel follows the fates of a pair of lovers and their families as World War II sweeps across Europe.

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The Invisible Bridge
By Julie Orringer
Alfred A. Knopf
624 pp., $26.95

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No one encountering The Invisible Bridge would ever suspect Julie Orringer of being a short-story writer. The debut novel of the “How to Breathe Underwater” author clocks in at a whopping 624 pages, and there’s nothing minimalist about either its breadth or goals.

The future is looking up for Andras Lévi. Unable to study architecture in Hungary because he is Jewish, he is instead on his way to Paris, enrolled at the École Spéciale on a scholarship. In his pocket is a letter addressed to “Morgenstern,” given to him to mail by a well-to-do Jewish family; on the train, a businessman buys him a pretzel. (This is the kind of book where even such seemingly minor contact will come to have ramifications later.)

Once in Paris, not only does he become the protégé of a kind instructor who teaches him French and secures entrance to medical school for his older brother, but Le Corbusier admires his work.

Unfortunately for Andras, the year is 1937, and readers are aware his good fortune is all too temporary. The first sign of things to come is when his scholarship is summarily canceled. A professor is cajoled into putting up half the money, and Andras works tirelessly at a theater for the rest, first as a gopher, then as a set designer.

This being Paris, he also falls in love. Invited to dinner at the home of a strong-minded teenaged girl, Andras is instead smitten with her mother, a ballet instructor in her early 30s. Claire Morgenstern, it turns out, is the recipient of the mysterious letter and is really Hungarian Klara Hász. She is living in exile in France and, for reasons Orringer gradually reveals, can’t risk returning to Budapest without endangering herself and her family.

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