My List of Books to Read in the Near Future is long and overwhelming (that’s what she said), including three decent-sized books that I vowed to read in the year 2010 that I haven’t even cracked open yet. But, when Katie finished reading The Invisible Bridge, her reaction to it was so powerful and so persuasive that I pushed aside said list and dove into this 600-page epic instead.
It took me two months to get through it, as my attention span isn’t always the best, but it was incredibly worth it; I am fairly sure this may be one of the Ten Best Books I’ve Ever Read. I know. These are bold words, and it was one of those books that I was Really Liking the whole time until I finished it, and then I was like, “Wow. I didn’t just Really Like that. I Loved that."
It is a really traditional narrative set during World War II, which has obviously been addressed like, a lot, in books and movies and TV shows already. And yet, somehow, this book feels fresh and human and great in new ways. Julie Orringer writes about her characters with such genuine care and affection, and creates such a grounded, authentic-feeling world around them, that it’s hard not to get sucked in. Her writing often felt to me like this delightful amalgam of Michael Chabon and J.K. Rowling, except supplant the comic-booky-fantasy stuff with straight-up grounded historical-context-and-facts stuff. (That exchange sounds like trading "cool” for “boring,” but it’s really not at all.)
And I think it ultimately works so well because the protagonist, a 20-something Hungarian aspiring architect, is so damn likably relatable. I think it’s the most a piece of World War II art or literature has actually given me a sense of what it would be like to be alive during that era, where you don’t actually know things are definitely headed towards war, towards the Holocaust. It’s brutal and real and shocking and horrible without ever sensationalizing or sentimentalizing, and I think the biggest praise I can say for the novel is that it made me want to know a lot more about my own Jewish ancestry. So, great book? Yeah. Great book.