Tuesday, September 20, 2011

One More Before I Go

It seems as though I've been listening to this book forever, which means I've been slacking off on my exercising. However, after 11 discs, I'm finally completely enthralled by Julie Orringer's remarkably sophisticated debut novel The Invisible Bridge. I've read other reviews and have found that many agree with me that the first 100 pages or so were difficult to latch on to. I now know why.

Ms. Orringer had to lay out her plot with a perfectionist's detail in order for the rest of the novel to move forward. She needed to allow the reader to become totally invested in the characters before she brought down the full wrath of Hitler's army on them.

I've always been a bit of a fanatic about the World War II era, reading all that I could get my hands on. One faction of that time that I didn't have as much knowledge about was the Hungarian side of the equation. When Andras Levi manages to leave his family in Budapest for the famed Parisian  school of architecture, one would think that he had the world as his oyster. For a few years of poverty stricken student life, shared with a cadre of friends in equally straightened circumstances, he would earn a bright future.

But timing is everything. It's the 1930's and the sinister rumblings of war are everywhere. Andras and his friends are Jewish and argue daily about what that will mean to them in the future. Optimists like Andras fail to see the writing on the wall until it's almost too late. Others leave Paris for America, or back to Hungary, hoping to avoid a war that is inevitable.

Underlying the historical nature of this huge novel is a love story - or several love stories really - though the focus is on Andras and his Klara, an "older" woman, 32 years old, raising a headstrong teenage daughter. Klara Morganstern has a mysterious backstory that readers will guess at pretty easily but it serves as the final push when Klara is deciding whether or not she can trust Andras with her love and her future.

I'll admit to losing patience with Klara and Andras at first as the story revolved solely around their angst . I wanted to shake them and say, "look around you at what's happening. How can you think that your petty concerns can top what's happening in the world?" But then, of course, I realized that that's just the point, isn't it? And how perceptive of Orringer to get that. Even as our present world seems to be chaotically falling down around us, we continue on with our daily routines, our lives and loves, because what else can you do? How human we are!

I am now completely invested in the future for these wonderful, fully realized characters. The only reason I'm not walking and listening this morning is that it's dreary and rainy here in Maryland and it's almost time  to jump in the shower and double check the suitcases. We leave for the airport at 1. As the plane wings its way to Africa I'll be back with Klara and Levi, feeling the pit in my stomach as they realize that the winds of war are upon them and that their lives will be forever marked by it.

Once again a novice writer has knocked it out of the ball park, Where do they come up with their ideas? How do they discipline themselves to sit and put these ideas to paper? How to take a subject as old as the hills and make it fresh and new? It's amazing! This novel would be an excellent companion piece to the non-fiction book about the run-up to war by Erik Larson and discussed at my library last week, In the Garden of Beasts.

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