The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer
published 2010 chapter 9 events in 1937
[Andras is a young Hungarian student living in Paris. He has made the acquaintance of a mother and daughter, and they are going skating together.]
At half past two they rode the Metro to the Bois [de Vincennes]. When they emerged from the station… Madame Morgenstern walked with Andras. She spoke about her students, about the upcoming winter pageant, about the recent cold snap. She was wearing a close-fitting red woollen hat shaped like a bell; the loose ends of her hair curled from its edge, and snowflakes gathered on its crown…
Andras stepped onto the ice and cut a chain of arcs toward the larger of the two islands, testing the edge and balance of the blades…[Since childhood] Andras was light and nimble on skates, faster than his brothers or his friends. Even now, on these dull rental blades, he felt agile and swift. He cut between the skaters in their dark woollen coats, his jacket fluttering behind him, his cap threatening to fly from his head. If he had paused to notice, he might have seen young men watching him with envy as he sped by; he might have seen the girls’ curious glances, the elderly skaters’ looks of disapproval. But he was aware only of the pure thrill of flying across the ice, the quick exchange of heat between his blades and the frozen lake. He made a circuit round the larger island, coming up behind the women at top speed, then slipped between Madame Morgenstern and Elisabet so neatly that they both stopped and gasped...
This is a very curious book for anyone who read Julie Orringer’s first book, How to Breathe Underwater, a collection of strange and wonderful stories, unusual, experimental, very varied. The last thing the reader would expect would be that her next book would be a 600-page historical novel, a straight description of what happens to one Hungarian Jewish family between 1937 and 1945, with a coda taking the story a little further. Andras is the main character, and the first third of the book follows him through student life, successes and failure and poverty, and a love affair. There is a detailed and very visual description of Parisian life. Then, as every reader must know, comes the war, with attendant horrors and carnage. It is a very straight, linear book, and there seems nothing about it that couldn’t have been written 20 years ago. The good people are good, the bad are bad, no-one really surprises you. The author is apparently imagining the life of her grandparents and other family, and the trouble is, this makes her over-respectful, which seems a shame. The research and the descriptions are excellent, but the book is somewhat uninspiring, although very informative about Hungarian life and history.
The photo is an advert for lucky Strike cigarettes, from the George Eastman House collection, and can be found on Flickr.