Related News

Home » Feature » Art and Culture

Bracing for the greatest horror

A FEW years ago, the permanent secretary of the Nobel Prize jury had some less than charitable things to say about American literature. "The US is too isolated, too insular," the secretary, Horace Engdahl, argued. "They don't translate enough and don't really participate in the big dialogue of literature. That ignorance is restraining." His comments upset some people, but despite the obvious oversimplification he was right.

Recently, much of American literature seems to have been looking inward. That's one of the many reasons Julie Orringer's first novel, "The Invisible Bridge," deserves to be praised. It takes the introspective themes we've loved so well in American literature - for example Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself" - and points them in a different direction.

Orringer's central character, Andras Levi, is a promising student of architecture who leaves his native Hungary to study in Paris in the late 1930s - until his scholarship is revoked when anti-Jewish laws go into effect. As you might expect, the trials he and his wife and their extended families face will grow worse in the years to come. Their happiest days and, later, their struggles, are rendered in sweeping, epic fashion.

The war in Europe drives Andras and his wife, Klara, apart, as it does so many people around them. After returning to Hungary, Andras is relatively lucky, assigned to a labor unit while others wind up on the brutal eastern front or at a mining camp in Siberia. Then, in a cruel twist, a newly exposed secret from Klara's past threatens to further disrupt her family's fortunes. The Levis' experiences give us a close look at the terrible ways that enormous historical events can affect individual lives.

Not unlike a typical Hungarian meal, "The Invisible Bridge" might have benefited from the elimination of some fat in the first few courses. The slower pace wouldn't necessarily pose a problem, except that it makes an already abrupt endgame feel more rushed. Orringer's readers wind up bracing themselves in a kind of anticipatory dread, awaiting the greatest horror of the 20th century. All along we know, or think we know, what's in store for Andras and his family.

Yet Orringer builds on that historical tension in very clever ways.


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend