Our book selection for June was The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer, an epic story of a group of Hungarian Jews whose lives are caught in the vortex of World War II. It’s a story about contrasts: about minorities and majorities, the rich and the hard-up, the intellectuals and the fascists, the artists and the uninspired, the good-hearted and the cold-hearted, and the violent and the peaceful. These opposing social forces tear apart the lives of the characters, as they did everyone who lived through the war, and we see how the violence traumatizes each one, in its own unique way.
The backdrops to all these stories are Paris, Budapest, Florence, and the mountains of eastern Europe. Their descriptions are as striking as the set designs that Andras, the young architecture student/ protagonist, builds for the grand stage productions in Paris. The reader is transported into European society of the 1930’s and 1940’s, not so long ago as far as time goes, but so very, very different from our contemporary world of today. For readers who don’t know many details of the war, this book is very enlightening, and for readers who know the details but not the profoundly personal toll it took on individuals, this book is so very moving.
I thought of many other stories as I read this book: Gone With the Wind, Crime and Punishment, Doctor Zhivago, and others. And the analogy that’s often used to describe climate change also kept coming to mind: the frog sitting in water which gets slowly but steadily heated beneath him, fails to react to the increased temperature and perishes. As humans, we aren’t very different from the frogs in responding to danger. This story is about that phenomenon.